The one thing I hope that Mitt Romney won’t do tonight is waste the whole evening trying to persuade us he’s likeable: no, he should not be unlikeable (think Al Gore in the debates with George W. Bush), but when a liberal such as Liz Marlantes, who appears on Fox News’s Special Report panel, urges Romney to just concentrate on making people like him in the debate, you know the fix is in.
Trying to make people like you is a juvenile way to convince them that you can get our country out of its current morass. In fact, the shallowness of this current campaign season is partly summed up in the mainstream media's obsession with likeability, as if we are electing Mr. Most Popular in a high-school graduating class. Besides, the entire Republican convention was one big likeability shtick. How did that work out, bounce-wise?
And, no matter how likeable Romney is, the mainstream media will provide immediate commentary tonight and their heart is already taken. Howie Carr has a hilarious piece today on how the media will call tonight's debate:
The courtiers on the alphabet networks are just trying to depress you. They want you to stay home on Nov. 6. This is always done in campaigns — in World War II, the Axis had Tokyo Rose and Lord Haw-Haw spouting propaganda to the Allies over shortwave radio. Of course, the difference is, they were broadcasting from behind enemy lines.
Tonight’s Lord Haw-Haws will be trying to destroy morale from posh TV studios in New York and Washington. They ride around the East Side in limousines, make seven-figure salaries and summer on Nantucket. They’re the one percent.
Some have speculated that the network touts might try to keep Mitt viable, to goose ratings and keep a semblance of a horse race going. That may have been true until recent times, but now, the watchdogs are lapdogs. They can’t help themselves. They worship at Barack’s feet.
Lord Haw Haw may be a tad strong. But what can Romney do to advance his cause tonight?
Well, without being rude to the president (and he won’t—that’s not the kind of man he is), Romney has to make the case that, contrary to what the president and former President Bill Clinton have said, our economic situation wasn’t unfixable when he came into office. Presidents must be people who can rise to the occasion and deal with tough situations. Romney has to hit the president for failing and then blaming others for his failure. He has to convince a downhearted electorate that he really could be a different kind of president.
He’s got to prevent the president from doing two things: slithering away from his role in our abysmal economy and portraying Romney as a second coming of George Bush. Romney has got to make it clear that the “failed policies of the present” are destructive to the livelihoods of millions of Americans.
S. E. Cupp says that, after a year in which the president’s supporters have managed to whitewash his record, Romney must use the debate to clarify that record:
Every question to Romney about contradictory statements he’s made on the campaign trail, a lack of detail on his economic and foreign policy plans or his so-called gaffes is an opportunity for the challenger to throw it all back in the President’s face. His mantra Wednesday night should be: “My campaign may be imperfect, but your presidency has been abominable.”
Romney needs to do what others have refused, and that’s remind voters who they pulled the lever for in 2008, all the while telling them: I get why you did it then, but what’s your excuse four years later? This means posing tough — but frighteningly obvious — questions.
For example, he might turn to the President and ask:
How is it that we still have unemployment above 8%, when your stimulus package was supposed to prevent that? Where is the housing program that would rescue 9 million homes from foreclosure? Why have your economic policies led to record-high poverty and increased income inequality?
Then, he might turn to the live audience in Denver and ask:
Where are all those green jobs you were promised? Why have college tuition and student loan debt seen record highs, instead of the decreases you were promised? Where was the plan to protect your Social Security?
One commentator this morning says, “Open Your Heart, Mitt.” No, no, no. Don't even think it, Mitt. You aren’t good at PDAs (to your credit). Use this time to appeal to the minds of those who will go to the polls on Nov. 6.
While I am foursquare against any forced shows of emotion, which are alien to Mr. Romney’s persona anyway, I do think he has to scare people. Yes, I do. He can do this by calmly explaining that the free-market system, the engine of American prosperity, may not survive another four years on the current path. He has to talk about growing government dependency and make the point that, if you have dependency, there must be something upon which or whom to depend. The current economic policies are reducing prosperity for everybody—including those Mr. Obama plans to have pay for his expansion of government.
Romney might also be able, in a subtle way, to score points against the president’s likeability—which, in reality, is more like a celebrity than the leader of the free world. I suggested a line for Romney on National Review’s symposium on what the debate should provide on “The Corner:”
I’m not a celebrity, Mr. President. I may never be invited to party with Beyoncé and Jay-Z. I’m not eye candy to anybody but Ann. But here is something I can promise the American people: When our people are in trouble around the world, I am going to be in the White House and wide awake.
A piece today laments that that reporters don’t show the fun side of Mitt Romney (“Off the record, he’s loose as a goose and sort of endearing”). Who cares? I can only imagine the fun side of Mitt Romney is Waspy and might be incomprehensivle to many Americans. But we shouldn't care whether Mr. Romney is fun and endearing (he probably is both in private). These are serious times. And all this focus on the president’s alleged likeability is nothing more than an effort to avoid talking about his record, something Romney must do tonight.
And here is what really matters: Any man who could help the country get out of our current mess would be very likeable indeed.