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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Previewing the Debates: Mitt Doomed?

My new piece at The Nation on this but here's part of it:

Especially with his latest setback, it seems pretty clear that Mitt Romney will have to "win" or at least seem to triumph in the upcoming three debates.  When you hear GOPers talk about this as a happy prospect you have to laugh, although they are quick to remind you that in a similar match-up in 2000, George W. Bush "beat" Gore in the debates. (To be churlish, we will point out, that Bush actually lost that election.)

Now, here's what's wrong with that reasoning, and why Obama probably has little to worry about.  In 2000, many in the media had turned against the robotic Gore, and when they reported or opined that Bush "won" that carried the news cycle.  But a funny thing happened in 2008:  all of TV news outlets set up focus groups or arranged for credible instant polls minutes after the debates ended.  As in 2000 (as I chronicle in my book Why Obama Won), the pundits again said the GOP candidate did very well, in this case, McCain, or at minimum "held his own, maybe more" vs. the favored Obama.  But every time they went to voter reaction, via their focus groups or polls, they found that actually Obama had won easily!  This even happened on Fox.

And it happened again, exactly like that, after most claimed that Sarah Palin really "held her own" vs. Biden in their debate.

So the pundits and TV talking heads are no longer in control.  They will no doubt claim that Romney somehow "held his own" against smooth-talking Obama, and then they will probably have egg on their faces a few minutes later--as in 2008.

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