One of the reasons that I dislike presidential debates, (besides the obvious which is that they are incredibly scripted and seldom provide any new information) is the disingenuous way in which they are reported on. Let’s take a little journey that started last Sunday morning on the talk shows and begins tonight (I’m writing just an hour after the debates) and will run until next week.
Step 1. Candidates both plays the “lowering expectations” game. Which entails saying that the other guy is a better debater and attempting to lower the threshold so much that simply showing up and not drooling on yourself is considered a victory.
Step 2. The press and pundit class dutifully identifies this strategy and tells the public that the campaigns are TRYING to manipulate you into lowering your expectations.
Step 3. Playing right into the campaign’s hands the press and pundits publish POLLS showing who everyone THINKS is going to win the debate anyway.
And you know what’s funny about this entire process? At no point does it actually include any real analysis of who told the truth, who gave a coherent plan or who actually made any sense on stage. Democrats, who are inherently chicken-littles who are always sure that their candidate isn’t doing enough have outdone themselves after the first debate between Obama and Romney. From Chris Matthews to Bill Maher to a dozen other people I won’t mention they’re all devastated that Barack Obama didn’t jump up and down on stage and give Mitt Romney the people’s elbow. So now we’re going to be subjected to a week of last minute polls showing a tightening race (which was bound to happen anyway) and Democrats being terrified, and if I hear someone on television utter the words “Peaked too soon” about the Obama campaign I’m going to scream.
Republicans on the other hand thrilled with this victory and now are going to pretend for the next week that they actually liked Mitt Romney all along and were waiting for THIS Mitt to show up. They will overplay their hand, as usual and mistakenly think that ‘winning’ this debate (more on that later) makes Mitt Romney any more likable or believable than he has been for the last 2 years.
The reason these two emerging narratives so disgust me is because neither one really takes a look at the debate itself, the facts or the performances but are really just a Rorschach of what people wanted to see. The pundits were simply chomping at the bit for this to be a comeback story for Mitt Romney, because the alternative, a long slow slog to an inevitable loss was not exciting. But if you look at the debate objectively Mitt Romney was simply more aggressive, which is what a challenger, especially one who is behind in the polls is supposed to do. Along the same lines Obama is the incumbent, and he’s in the lead (certainly in the electoral college) and the last thing he’s going to do is get on stage and blow ammo on a guy who’s already on the side of the road bleeding. Could Obama have buried Mitt Romney with a ‘fantastic’ debate performance? Perhaps, but I really don’t think that would’ve worked. Incumbents don’t come out swinging, challengers do. So in the end, the debate analysis will have nothing to do with fact checkers, or the state of the race, but the big sexy story that 67% of voters thought Romney won. Congrats Mitt, you nabbed some of that 47% so callously wrote off two weeks ago. But when the narrative cards are stacked in your favor, and everyone’s expectations are more interesting than what actually happened, you can win empty victories like this.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.