As I suggested earlier, tonight starts with an eerie mix of wildly high and wildly low expectations for President Obama. Some are insisting he’ll have failed if there’s not some point in the debate when he calls Mitt Romney “bitch” or perhaps puts Mitt in a headlock. So he clearly faces the challenge of being more spirited and passionate while not coming off as unpresidential or getting himself arrested.
My take on this is that he mainly needs to ignore Romney. I know that sounds pretty weird. And I’m wondering if I’m right as I write it. But here’s what I mean. I’ve watched a number of these Townhall and they’re not about bodyslamming the other guy. The winners general focus on connecting with the questioners, addressing their questions, using good body language. If you ignore the questions and start addressing or attacking the other guy you can get in trouble quickly. And these audiences are known for reacting coolly to attacks.
I think Obama would be best served by addressing people’s question and making his case in a passionate, engaged and alive way. That won’t be possible without pointing out how MItt’s lied about this and that, noting that Romney wants to go back to the policies of the Bush era, voucherize Medicare and the like. But fundamentally this is Obama’s strong point. His policies are more geared to ordinary people and the concerns of ordinary people. Polls have always shown he beats Romney by multiples in understanding and caring about the concerns of average people. Do that and he’ll have a solid debate, contrasts and barbs with Romney will follow. But trying to relitigate the last debate or make it a do-over would be a mistake. Because the format and expectations are totally different.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.