Five Debate Night Ideas for Romney and His Team

 

Last week Peter emailed me an invitation to join the Ricochet gang. I immediately said yes.

As he explained in his generous introduction below, Peter and I met in Ronald Reagan’s White House, where we both served as speechwriters, first to Vice President George H.W. Bush, then to President Reagan.  Peter was one of the smartest and wittiest members of our speechwriting crowd.  I am humbled and delighted to join him here at Ricochet, another passionately committed and dazzlingly brilliant collection of writers.

As he did with Peter, Troy asked me to suggest things for Romney during the debates.  In my case he asked for five things. Here’s my list, things Romney should do on stage and things his team should do behind the scenes:

  • Challenge the Obama narrative:  The president’s mantra has been that low tax rates, predictable and lower regulations, restrained growth in domestic spending, stable monetary policy and increasingly open trade – Reaganesque policies that gave us 25 years of nearly uninterrupted growth – “got us into this mess.” 
    • Wrong. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and crony capitalism from their friends in Congress (notably rolling the dice by Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and, yes, Senator Barack Obama) created this crisis. Romney should say so.
    • He should also say that Obama’s 180-degrees-opposite-of-Reagan policies are prolonging the downturn. The reason is simple. New business creation and global trade in both directions have driven our economic growth for more than three decades. The Obama administration’s policies of higher tax rates, harsher and more arbitrary regulations, and bigger federal spending and borrowing that crowd out private investment have made it harder to start and grow businesses and compete in the global economy. Recovery requires reversing those policies. 
    • This is the true narrative of our times. In the debate, Romney should hammer on it.
  • Walk in with several good soundbites:  Memorable moments define campaigns.  Politico has a list of ten memorable debate moments. But seven were self-inflicted wounds (Dukakis’s cold response to the hypothetical rape of his wife; Ford insisting that Poland was not under the Soviet thumb). In only three was a candidate taking the fight to the opposition. Two of these moments were Reagan’s (“There you go again” and “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience”). The other was from Lloyd Bentsen (“Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine”). The three winners were planned. Romney needs to have zinger lines ready in advance.
  • Don’t be afraid to use humor: Oh, one other thing about killer debate lines. Note the difference between Reagan and Bentsen. Bentsen was crude and nasty. Reagan was deft and “youth and inexperience” drew a big laugh, including from Mondale. Humor is memorable and likable. Follow Reagan. Use humor.
  • Remember, Twitter is the new spin room: Who wins the interpretation goes a long way to determining who wins the debate. As we saw in the Obama campaign’s “lies” tweet during Paul Ryan’s convention speech, Twitter is the new spin room. Romney and his staff must not be content with a first-rate debate performance. They must have a first-rate debate follow up, starting during the program, which means having a Twitter strategy for reaching the media throughout the evening. 
  • Buy an insurance policy:  How did the Obama campaign get a bump from their bumbling, angry, banal convention, while Romney got none from his?  Could it be that the Obama people doubled up their advertising in those two weeks, running more than 40,000 spots nationwide, twice as many as the GOP? This is October, and Team Romney should be firing all ad guns anyway. But for each of the debates, they should surge the day before, the day of and the day after.

There are 14 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Super to have you and such valuable insights.

    The Twitter point is probably the most important. As Clint Eastward spoke at the GOP convention, there were tweets flooding the internet about how insane he looked. 

    Huffingtom Post invited its members to join their election group and they send out talking points to tweet and newspapers to target with comments. The newspapers are in Britain and Canada and you can see the same talking points and the comment section suddenly soars to 1,000, which is great for the newspapers’ advertising revenues.

    Ricochet should get us all on our twitter accounts giving Obama a taste of his own medicine.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @ctlaw

    The humor suggestion is ripe for being a media-declared gaffe.

    Stick to the indignation.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Christi

    Welcome to Ricochet! I couldn’t agree more with your list of 5, and frankly, I have often wondered why #1 hasn’t been absolutely pounded into the electorate for months – by everyone anxious to defeat Obama. When I make that point to (my ONE) liberal friend, he usually has zero response. One thing I’m hoping for from these debates – the 1st one in particular, is indeed, a Barack Obama self inflicted wound. As we’ve seen time and time again, Obama’s ‘default’ reaction to being ably challenged (or trapped) is to become snarky, emoting arrogance and condescension. A la the “you’re likeable enough” comment to Hillary.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Christi

    Ironically, one of Obama’s biggest promises for his Presidency was improvement of our identity abroad. And despite his comment about not spiking the ball, the Dems rallied around Bin Laden’s death in Charlotte. Now we have the Libya Massacre. Thoughts on how Romney should incorporate this massive failure and attendant coverup campaign/spinfest into his debate approach?

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Inactive
    @PaulErickson
    Christi: Welcome to Ricochet! I couldn’t agree more with your list of 5, and frankly, I have often wondered why #1 hasn’t been absolutely pounded into the electorate for months – by everyone anxious to defeat Obama. When I make that point to (my ONE) liberal friend, he usually has zero response. One thing I’m hoping for from these debates – the 1st one in particular, is indeed, a Barack Obama self inflicted wound. As we’ve seen time and time again, Obama’s ‘default’ reaction to being ably challenged (or trapped) is to become snarky, emoting arrogance and condescension. A la the “you’re likeable enough” comment to Hillary. · 9 minutes ago

    Amen.  And #1 goes for just about everything about the Obama narrative, not just the economy.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Contributor
    @GeorgeSavage
    Indaba: 

    Ricochet should get us all on our twitter accounts giving Obama a taste of his own medicine. · 28 minutes ago

    Indaba, this strikes me as exactly right.  We Ricocheteers should light up Twitter each time the president claims without evidence that adherence to the principles that propelled pre-fundamental-transformation America to global leadership “caused this mess.”

    Let’s all hope Governor Romney follows Clark’s advice.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    @VicePotentate

    I agree with you on pretty much everything. However, if I were Romney, I would not revisit the housing crisis. First, because there is not enough time. Second, getting muddled in the details will make it appear as if Mitt really isn’t in control. Third, and most importantly, the public still views the housing crisis as caused by President Bush and the Republicans. Romney will not change that perspective in two minutes. It’s not a winning issue, if Romney gets a question about it he should do a quick blame and pivot to talking about his pro-growth policy to move forward out of the housing slump.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member
    @
    George Savage

    Indaba: 

    Ricochet should get us all on our twitter accounts giving Obama a taste of his own medicine. · 28 minutes ago

    Indaba, this strikes me as exactly right.  We Ricocheteers should light up Twitter each time the president claims without evidence that adherence to the principles that propelled pre-fundamental-transformation America to global leadership “caused this mess.”

    Let’s all hope Governor Romney follows Clark’s advice. · 35 minutes ago

    I do Twitter politics with my anonymous account and my followers are now larger than my business account! 

    but if Main Feed writers or editors gave us all a prompt, we would all get on it. 

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Keith

    Welcome!

    ‘The president’s mantra has been that low tax rates, predictable and lower regulations, restrained growth in domestic spending, stable monetary policy and increasingly open trade – Reaganesque policies that gave us 25 years of nearly uninterrupted growth – “got us into this mess.” ‘

    It seems to me that Obama has attacked this, but in a more subtle way, or maybe an outrageous way, by attacking the extreme views, like saying they want to remove all regulations. Then he tries to sound like a middle of the road sane person, and it sells.

    Also, one of the only ads Romney has run in Southern MN/Iowa is the ad attacking Obama for not attacking China. It is exasperating with all the other things he could be attacking.

    Is Romney capable of expounding the merits of open trade while attacking China?

    • #9
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    @KCMulville

    Obama blames the 2008 recession on “policies of the past,” but whenever he tries to define what that means, he always winds up defining basic capitalism. He’s all for capitalism so long as the government runs it, with high taxes and excessive regulation. It’s a market economy where the market has to get permission for every move.

    Romney has to bring that out.

    • #10
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    @DocJay

    Get his narcissism to work against him.

    • #11
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    @RedFeline

    Welcome! Great to have insights from one who has been there!

    If I were able to give Mitt Romney a message, it would be to tell him he is totally my choice for the White House. He is such a good-looking man and so articulate, with great stage presence, before we go any further. He is such a fine man, of great character, with a strong ethical and moral code, America is fortunate indeed that a man of this caliber would put himself through all the hoops necessary to run for President. Then, when we look at his achievements in life, both on a personal and public level, his record is impressive. As a business person myself, I am awed by what he achieved with Bain Capital, never mind the Olympics. This is a strong man, highly intelligent, well-educated, with integrity. 

    It hurts me when I hear criticism of him from within his own party. As if it isn’t a hard enough job slogging it out on the campaign trail, taking all the feces that the Democrats and the media throw at him, to have Republicans also denigrate him seems to me a bit much. 

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Member
    @DuncanWinn

    Every time I bring up the first point to my liberal friends, they just tell me something like it was “wall street greed” that got us into this mess.  There is usually no explanation as to what that means.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Inactive
    @BlameTheInnocent

    Bring up the fact that 16,000 IRS agents are necessary to “improve” health care.

    • #14

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