Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Much Needed Win

It seems that we suddenly have a presidential campaign. Only a few days ago, the media was preparing Governor Romney's obituary, concluding that his thus far moribund campaign was essentially over. However, Romney's performance in last night's presidential debate exceeded all expectations and, for his supporters,
their wildest hopes. He managed to dominate the discussion, putting a befuddled President Obama on the defensive, while presenting himself as well-informed, presidential, and likable.

One of the most telling signs of Romney's successes was Obama's body language throughout the debate. The president was consistently scowling, grimacing and shaking his head in disagreement. He looked confused, unprepared and ill-at-ease. At one point, a camera shot of the backs of the two candidates revealed that while Romney was standing straight and tall, Obama had nervously bent his knee and was rolling his foot behind the podium.

Obama's jittery-ness was in stark contrast to Romney's poise—both in his body language and his speech. The governor was clearly well-prepared and not only defined the scope of the discussion but had reasonable and succinct responses to every attack from the president. This left Obama with little choice but to continuously harp on tired and refuted talking points; for instance, the ineffectual attack on corporate jet owners and constant reiteration of a bogus $5 trillion tax-break.

Yet what was most interesting about Romney's performance was that he displayed a couple of characteristics, previously absent from his campaign, in the most flattering manner. First, he had a clear and convincing message. He carefully outlined his thoughts and principles on a wide-array of issues and policies. While the president claimed Romney did not offer specifics, this charge fell rather flat. In contrast to his campaign so far, Romney was a man of ideas and solutions. He offered a vision for the country, which displayed that he could succeed as a leader.

Up until the debate, this has been a horrendous failure of the Republican campaign, which has largely focused on attacking the president without offering much in the way of alternatives. There was some hope that by bringing the wonky Paul Ryan onto the ticket, that Romney would delve into policy. However, the opposite seemed to happen, with Ryan's intellectualism being silenced in favor of Romney-esque stoicism. This, as the campaign's poll numbers showed and the pundits screamed, was a foolish tactic.

However, last night's volte-face appears to have moved the campaign in the needed direction. CNN's live tracker, which followed the real-time sentiments of undecided Colorado voters, confirmed the merits of offering arguments about policy and principles. When either candidate spoke about his ideas the voters responded favorably, when they attacked their counterpart the voters soured. It seems that despite the accepted "wisdom" that negative campaigns work, voters want to hear proposals.

Second, Romney finally shed the defensive stance he has held throughout the campaign. Previously, Romney frequently looked like he was trying to back away from an issue or deny responsibility. This made him appear to be weak and indecisive and allowed Obama's attacks to stick. However, last night he was a different man. He owned his record and beliefs and explained why they are right. He fought back against the president's distortions and explained nuances in a clear and reasonable manner. This made Obama look petty and dissimulative, while giving the viewer a logical argument about the veracity of the Romney-way.

This simple tactic of owning and then explaining his principles and beliefs was an enormous step toward strengthening Romney's campaign. Voters want a leader who is confident, who has ideas, and who is able to explain his policies in a nuanced but understandable manner. The Romney who was on display last night succeeded at all of this.

Hopefully, he will maintain this momentum. Obama will undoubtedly come to the next debate more prepared. Romney has to continue to shine, turning his campaign into an expression of his vision for the country, while defending his principles and policies with poise and candor. While the election is quite near, Romney still has time to make his case. A Romney in this mold will be hard to beat.