Chasing the Needles

I’m writing this from a very, very blue state. So blue that six weeks ago it was so safely in Obama’s column that no one, not even the most optimistic and dreamy-eyed Republican partisan, could have spun with a straight face. Today? A tie. A tie where all the polling velocity is with Romney, and GOP enthusiasm has popped 13% in three weeks. It’s like that everywhere, except for California, New York and a few bijoux liberal enclaves.

Which is why Barack Obama’s campaign hangs in the balance tonight at the Hofstra debate.

Going into Denver, the need for Romney to win was almost existential. For our friends in the media, it was articulated in variations of this snide little view: “Well, all Romney needs to do is completely dominate the most brilliant President and most accomplished orator of our generation and totally redefine the race.”

We know how that rodeo ended.

Romney has much to gain tonight, but the President has an enormous amount to lose. Romney doesn’t have to score another knockout. Barack Obama does, just to stay in the game.

The political aftershocks of Obama’s disastrous performance in Denver were reinforced – particularly with swing state voters and the shrinking number of undecideds – by Vice President Biden’s manic, unhinged debate-as-performance-art performance last week. The drumbeat of tightening polls is the background music for their increasingly alarmed base. Team Obama can feel it all slipping out from the narrow parameters of their plan.

When pilots “chase the needles,” they over-correct their aircraft in an attempts to get on the glideslope for landing. It leads to larger and larger over-corrections and excursions from the flight path, sometimes dangerously so. Obama is well-off the glideslope right now (hello, Big Bird) and is chasing the needles, desperately trying to stabilize his campaign. An instructor pilot once told me, “When you’re over-correcting, call missed approach, clean up the aircraft and go around.”

The President doesn’t have that option tonight. There is no go-around.

Obama’s supporters are looking for him to recapture the magic that set their legs tingling and hearts singing in 2008. They didn’t see it in Denver, and they desperately need it tonight. Anything less than a command performance by Barack Obama will likely send Andrew Sullivan and the like off their fainting couches and on to the nearest ledge. The wailing and lamentations of the commentariat in the event of a Romney victory will be deafening. An Obama win tonight just moves the ball back to the 50-yard line, which is still an awful lot better for Romney than where it was before the Denver debate.

Unfortunately for him, Obama and his team know that.

Obama will, in a tricky town hall format, need to deliver perfectly calibrated, highly negative attacks on Romney and his record. This is like Walter White’s product to the Democratic base. And they’re jonesing bad for a big bump of that hard-left attack meth. That kind of attack is, however, poison to moderate voters, women, and the remaining undecideds. Obama can easily slip from being a feisty competitor to a nasty, carping loser if he’s not extraordinarily careful.

Since Denver, Obama has been the recipient a lot of terribly contradictory advice, almost all of it well-meaning, and almost all of it wrong. “Go hard negative on 47%.” Don’t touch 47%, you’ll look small.” “Be harder.” “Be softer.” “Be more inspirational.” “Be more practical.” “Outline a crisp, clear vision for the future.” “Don’t talk vision, we already oversold it.”

Too hot, and he enters the Biden state of the unhinged and unpresidential. Too cool, and it’s Denver part deux and the Democratic base sinks even deeper into their funk.

Even in 2008, the town hall win by Obama needs to be seen in the context of McCain’s disastrously poor performance. This is not Obama’s strong suit. One thing Bill Clinton can’t confer on Obama is his personal ability to connect. Clinton’s weird need to have a personal connection runs in two directions: he wants to absorb all that pain and anxiety and uncertainty, and he wants to leave his marks with the sense they were doing him a favor by sharing.

For Obama, it’s never been about that. It’s a one-way process, feeding on adoration and attention, basking in the hot glow of his supporters’ worship. He’ll hear the sob story, but unlike Clinton, he’ll bridge to either his usual, trite class warfare or to a government handout as the solution. It will feel contrived, because it is.

Romney, for all the jokes about his stiffness, is a man who has operated in an intensely interpersonal business climate for his entire life and has demonstrated his ability to use the town hall format effectively.

But hey, Barack…no pressure, ok?

  1. KC Mulville

    Obama will start off looking like he has a lot of confidence and energy. But reality has a way of boring a hole through faked confidence.

    I’d say that all Romney has to do is ask Obama a question that he’s uncomfortable answering. The confidence will unravel. Obama will ask to move on, or ask Candy Crowley for help. The confidence will unravel, and then it’ll only be a question of whether Obama turns petulant or simply wilts under the pressure.

    What sort of question could unravel Obama, one that he can’t answer? There are plenty: Benghazi, GM’s stock price, trillion-dollar debt, Pakistan, etc.

    Obama is ready to be taken.

  2. katievs

    Another home run.  Thanks, Rick.

    I really can’t imagine this going well for Obama.  His entire life has been about smoke and mirrors and weaving illusions.  He’s just never before had to come to terms with Reality.  And now, here it is, biting him in the face on national TV.

  3. Dave Carter
    C

    My only concern is that the format, populated by undecideds, might become a contest where audience members essentially ask for more benefits from the nanny state.  “What can you do for me?” they may ask.  

    Now, Obama is out of treats on that one because, as Governor Romney can point out, we’re broke.  The hand-held-out sort of questions have played to Democrats in the past, but I think Romney will be able to turn it around to highlight Obama’s failures and deftly talk to these people like adults.  Hopefully he will remind them that a government powerful enough to do anything for you, can also do anything to you.  Just ask the Independent Payment Advisory Board.  

  4. DocJay

    Obama’s legendary oratory skills are fine on a script but his lauded brilliance and debating prowess are at risk of being the most underwhelming and pitiful experience of overwhelming hype since Naomi Wolf’s vagina.  

  5. ConservativeWanderer
    KC Mulville: Obama will start off looking like he has a lot of confidence and energy. But reality has a way of boring a hole through faked confidence.

    I’d say that all Romney has to do is ask Obama a question that he’s uncomfortable answering. The confidence will unravel. Obama will ask to move on, or ask Candy Crowley for help. The confidence will unravel, and then it’ll only be a question of whether Obama turns petulant or simply wilts under the pressure.

    What sort of question could unravel Obama, one that he can’t answer? There are plenty: Benghazi, GM’s stock price, trillion-dollar debt, Pakistan, etc.

    Obama is ready to be taken. · 18 minutes ago

    Unfortunately, the rules of this debate do not allow the candidates to ask questions of each other.

    And you can be sure Candy Crowley would call Romney on it even as she lets Obama get away with it.

  6. KC Mulville
    ConservativeWanderer

    Unfortunately, the rules of this debate do not allow the candidates to ask questions of each other.

    True, but he doesn’t have to ask it formally. “Maybe the president can explain why … ” as part of his answer to a related question.

  7. ConservativeWanderer
    KC Mulville

    ConservativeWanderer

    Unfortunately, the rules of this debate do not allow the candidates to ask questions of each other.

    True, but he doesn’t have to ask it formally. “Maybe the president can explain why … ” as part of his answer to a related question. · in 0 minutes

    Candy would still jump on it.

    Trust me, she’s gonna be so far in the tank for Obama that she will need scuba gear. If she’s not, she’ll never get invited to any beltway cocktail parties.

  8. das_motorhead

    A question, Rick:

    The left is desperate to write the Obama comeback story, and will do everything they can to make that happen tonight, regardless of reality. How bad does Obama have to be (or how good does Romney have to be) to fall under that threshold where they can’t spin it as “he did well enough” or “he did what he had to do,” if not an outright win?

  9. das_motorhead

    Put another way, if Obama turns in a B-/C+ type performance tonight, will grade inflation push him to a B+/A-?

  10. Rick Wilson

    That’s so true… Fake confidence, isn’t. A Hillary question should so the trick.

    KC Mulville: Obama will start off looking like he has a lot of confidence and energy. But reality has a way of boring a hole through faked confidence.

    I’d say that all Romney has to do is ask Obama a question that he’s uncomfortable answering. The confidence will unravel. Obama will ask to move on, or ask Candy Crowley for help. The confidence will unravel, and then it’ll only be a question of whether Obama turns petulant or simply wilts under the pressure.

    What sort of question could unravel Obama, one that he can’t answer? There are plenty: Benghazi, GM’s stock price, trillion-dollar debt, Pakistan, etc.

    Obama is ready to be taken. · 41 minutes ago

  11. Rick Wilson

    When the proverbial msm was the only mechanism, that would have worked. As in the last debate, if Romney dominates, wide viewership (60 million+) and broad  social media cueing will prevent even the most hagiographic Obama fanboy coverage from getting too much traction.   

    Benefits of the disintermediation of political coverage.

    das_motorhead: A question, Rick:

    The left is desperate to write the Obama comeback story, and will do everything they can to make that happen tonight, regardless of reality. How bad does Obama have to be (or how good does Romney have to be) to fall under that threshold where they can’t spin it as “he did well enough” or “he did what he had to do,” if not an outright win? · 4 minutes ago

  12. Rick Wilson

    Agreed. The presence of ringers, patsys and skells, as well as the “Gimmie!” crowd is a risk, but one Romney is prepped for, and as you said, Obama can’t.

    Dave Carter: My only concern is that the format, populated by undecideds, might become a contest where audience members essentially ask for more benefits from the nanny state.  “What can you do for me?” they may ask.  

    Now, Obama is out of treats on that one because, as Governor Romney can point out, we’re broke.  The hand-held-out sort of questions have played to Democrats in the past, but I think Romney will be able to turn it around to highlight Obama’s failures and deftly talk to these people like adults.  Hopefully he will remind them that a government powerful enough to do anything for you, can also do anything to you.  Just ask the Independent Payment Advisory Board.   · 36 minutes ago

  13. John Grier
    Dave Carter: … “What can you do for me?” they may ask.  

    Now, Obama is out of treats on that one because, as Governor Romney can point out, we’re broke.  The hand-held-out  ….

    … should be filled with a job — or a fishing pole.

  14. Eeyore

    If Obama does “over-correct,” Candy Crowley will certainly provide an angel gust of wind to prevent the airflow over Obama’s wing from delaminating.

    All Obama has to do to walk away uninjured is remain the “stern lecturer,” even if he does it fact-free. He can’t over-punish and he can’t wimp out. But a performer he is, and if he can just come up with catch-phrase responses to Romney, he will not stall, spin, crash, burn and die.

  15. Indaba

    the insight that Mitt has spent his career having to work with people and communicate with them is true. Imagine his time with the Olympics, as a Governor. Bain would be the best for the town hall as he would have had to meet and relate to so many business owners and their employees.

    Hope that auto correct needle encourages a flip and roll right out of control. America needs to get back to its founding father roots and away from the socialist ideology. 

    Chris, Jay Zee, Pimp with a Limp, if Romney can mention those in one sentence, that might get the flip going. I am unable to imagine Romney saying pimp.

  16. Cuban Mike

    My one concern is that Obama would have to do as bad, if not worse, for the already approved narrative to be changed; “Obama wins debate, sets campaign back on track”

  17. Gary The Ex-Donk

    I think a lot of the media folks who think Obama has an edge tonight are forgetting the President’s lack of people skills once he goes one on one without a TelePrompter.

    As for Romney, the guy spent many years as a lay pastor in his church spending much of his free time counseling people going through difficult problems in their lives.  Mitt has the empathy advantage here.  The question is can he be comfortable demonstrating this in front of 50 million people?

  18. GLDIII
    Rick Wilson: When pilots “chase the needles,” they over-correct their aircraft in an attempts to get on the glideslope for landing. It leads to larger and larger over-corrections and excursions from the flight path, sometimes dangerously so. Obama is well-off the glideslope right now (hello, Big Bird) and is chasing the needles, desperately trying to stabilize his campaign.

    Rick, I have done this a few time before while “under the hood”. It is intense and very difficult, (cutting donuts in the seat cushion) but should be experienced so that you follow your instructor suggestion:

    Rick Wilson:  An instructor pilot once told me, “When you’re over-correcting, call missed approach, clean up the aircraft and go around.”

    The President doesn’t have that option tonight. There is no go-around.

    Which is what I have done when I got behind while in the clag.

    As for Mr Romney tonight, I have no worries. He and the president remind me of the classic contest of the school super nerd vs the slack off.  While we may enjoy the “cool aura” of the choom crowd , we know who we want when it’s serious time.

    It’s serious time.

  19. concerned citizen
    Gary The Ex-Donk: I think a lot of the media folks who think Obama has an edge tonight are forgetting the President’s lack of people skills once he goes one on one without a TelePrompter.

    As for Romney, the guy spent many years as a lay pastor in his church spending much of his free time counseling people going through difficult problems in their lives.  Mitt has the empathy advantage here. 

    Great point.  I am tired of this baloney that the Democrat always have the edge when it comes to “empathy.”   That is just another lie, repeated  as conventional wisdom, and used as a snide put-down of Republicans and their policies.

    Obama has been shockingly bad at building relationships with members of Congress in both parties, and apparently ‘really doesn’t like people.’  Romney, on the other hand, has his extensive church service as you mentioned, as well as working with people in his business career, the Olympics, and in Massachusetts.

    The dynamic with these two particular politicians turns that bit of conventional wisdom on its head.   I’m confident about tonight.

  20. Stuart Creque

    The other expression is “training to fight the last war and not the next one.”

    What was true before the first debate is still true — arguably even MORE true — tonight: President Obama doesn’t behave well when he gets irritated and piqued.  Like a fighting bull, he can be made to see red by a few well-placed stings by a picador.  Thus John Kerry overtrained him to keep his cool and appear pleasantly placid in the first debate.

    Unfortunately for the President, Romney doesn’t even have to sting him to throw him off his game tonight: the first debate did that.  It’s possible that repeating that performance tonight could do him a lot of good in a town hall format, where he’s talking to voters and not Romney — but the option of repeating that performance is probably not open to him, given the insistence of his faithful that he “show some fire” and “take the fight to Romney.”  Add his personal resentment for having been bested to the base’s insistence that he get aggressive, and it’s likely he’s going to overcompensate in an unattractive way: pegging the needle, in Rick’s metaphor.

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