Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Why Romney Has Several Debate Advantages
In my days as a Yale undergrad, I was surrounded by smart liberals. It is the nature of the place. As a conservative, you had to be totally on your game, and you had to understand your adversaries. If you didn't come out of Yale with a full understanding of the liberal mindset, you were sleeping for four years. In fact, just last month I was at a small gathering of Yale professors and administrators. One professor made a crack at the expense of George Bush, and the room erupted in laughter, everyone safe in the knowledge that no one could possibly not find it funny.
To be intellectually sharp, it is necessary to have a lot of exposure - direct exposure - to people who don't think like you. Bill Clinton was an excellent debater in large part because he was a liberal from Arkansas. Ronald Reagan was a conservative from California and the entertainment industry (and a reformed Democrat). These men understood the philosophies they opposed.
Barack Obama has spent his life in a pleasant echo chamber, one where conclusions can be glib and rarely challenged, and where knowing nods are exchanged in the faculty lounge. From Harvard to Columbia to Chicago, to his radical family members and his youth in Hawaii, I seriously doubt Obama ever had a five minute conversation with a conservative in all that time. If a fellow student or faculty member had ever taken issue with him, concerns for political correctness would have been more than enough to ensure their silence. He certainly never spent any real time with anyone who might have given conservative views the slightest bit of credence. Conservatives were likely dismissed as dumb southerners and religious zealots. Nothing for any person of real intelligence to waste any time pondering.
I have known a lot of people like this in my life, and in my experience they wilt easily when confronted with rational arguments that don't conform their belief systems. The result is usually petulance and name calling. (Fascist!) Obama, for his part, still doesn't understand conservatives or their ideas. He recently said he prefers watching the TV show Homeland to the Republican debates.
Obama is also out of practice. This matters, because debating is an acquired skill. Obama has been spending time on The View and David Letterman where he has to answer tough questions like, "Is it hard for you that not everyone understands your brilliance?" Yesterday, Obama said debate prep was a "drag." Does this surprise anyone? Hey, going to fundraisers, chilling on The View, and playing golf are so much more fun. John Kerry is playing Mitt Romney in the debates. John Kerry, a liberal from Massachusetts. Do I have to say it?
More broadly, can you think of a time in his life when Obama has ever been seriously challenged, about anything? His political races have largely been cake walks, and John McCain was practically offering to run and get Obama a latte during the debates four years ago. Those times he is challenged, he gets prickly. Prickly doesn't play well in debates.
Lastly, four years ago Obama was a complete unknown with virtually no legislative record in the Senate or the Illinois House, so he had nothing to defend. He could say whatever he wanted, attack without being attacked. Now, he is the 100% owner of four years of miserable performance. It is a target rich environment, to say the least, and Romney won't be shy about going after him.
Mitt Romney went through nineteen debates in the primaries. More broadly, he is a conservative (kind of) who has spent most of his life in liberal precincts. Does anyone think he's not ready for this?
One big, giant caveat: Romney still faces his biggest challenge, which is connecting with people on a personal level. If he loses, this will be why. Stay tuned.