Governor Romney got a lot done last night, and this is a man we’ve been told for months was tongue-tied, inept, distant and unconvincing. Democratic analyst William Galston at The Huffington Post gives a pretty good summary of the Governor’s achievement:
First, Romney presented himself as a reasonable man — neither an extremist nor an ideologue. He calmly rebutted familiar attacks on his proposals. He was clear and forceful, tough but respectful. He sounded knowledgeable. He conveyed an impression of competence and experience as a potential manager of the economy. He praised some aspects of the Obama administration’s program, such as its Race to the Top education reform program. And when he insisted on the importance of working together across party lines, it sounded as though he meant it.A good performance in a debate with a sitting president is always going to help a challenger. Simply by holding his own, the challenger suggests to millions of voters that he is a plausible president.
Second, Romney wove a number of anecdotes — peoples’ stories from the campaign trail — into his policy discussions. This had the effect of softening his image as a soulless manager focused solely on the bottom line. So did his assertion that the country has a responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
Third, Romney provided a number of policy specifics, and his virtual PowerPoint style — a series of bullets laid out clearly — underscored the impression of specificity. My guess is that viewers will come away with the sense that they know considerably more than they did before
Fourth, Romney found an organizing theme for his proposals — job creation. He defended his views on marginal tax rates as conducive to the formation and growth of small business, a major source of employment gains. By repeatedly returning to the subject of job creation, he linked his managerial skills to the well-being of real human beings.
But for a Republican in our era of polarized media, there’s much more. Most Americans learn about candidates these days from the media: from news stories, commentary from talking heads and pundits, and paid advertisements. Without accusing the press of deliberate dishonesty, it’s pretty clear that Democratic candidates in general get better press than their GOP rivals. With every lame comment, every inept decision, every gaffe and kerfluffle chewed over, mocked and thoroughly aired by the mainstream media, Republican candidates generally do better when voters see them without the intervening filter.
Debates may offer more opportunities for Republican presidential candidates than for Democratic ones; it is a chance not only to replace the negative media portrait with something more positive, but to challenge the veracity of the media itself. Bemused liberals used to wonder why Ronald Reagan was the Teflon president; a big reason was that the contrast between the president as portrayed in the press and the president as seen directly by voters was so large that voters stopped believing anything the media had to say about President Reagan. They discounted negative stories to take account of what they assumed was an inveterate, unchanging bias; the more the media howled, the more many voters thought Reagan must be doing something right.
Romney’s strong performance in the debate will further undermine public confidence that the media is telling the truth about the ex-governor. Where was the plastic, uncaring clown we’ve been reading so much about, people asked? Voters had been led to expect an incompetent bumbler, a comically maladroit rich man’s son. Now, given the contrast between the caricature and what appeared at least to be a competent, serious and caring man whose head is on straight, many voters will now give Governor Romney more benefit of the doubt when, inevitably, new negative stories begin to appear. The elite, the effete media is down on him; to many Americans that will now be a reason to support him and to tune out the detraction and the nitpicking.
Thursday, October 04, 2012
The First Debate
Interesting analysis. [Link]