I feel like a kid on a long car ride. Giddy anticipation has faded to weariness. The good news is that we are almost to the end. The bad is that you can expect it to get even nastier and more polarized going forward. Most people have decided, early votes are being cast and millions of dollars are being spent looking at capturing a handful of undecided voters in the key swing-state.
After the debate this week, the candidates have one more chance to significantly sway public opinion on their own terms. After that, it’s a roll of the dice.
President Obama had a much, much better debate. After his dismal showing in the first debate (no one is going to defend his cardboard stand-in strategy in the first debate), he put Romney’s feet to the fire.
A constant assault on Romney’s mathematically questionable tax policies, various chameleonic positions and lack of specifics helped show the American people that even if you don’t agree with the President on some policies, you have no idea what you’re getting with Romney. Are you getting the Massachusetts moderate (Coal kills, Romney-care, pro-choice…) or the hardened conservative crusader. I’m never sure when Romney takes the stage if I’m going to see Jekyll, Hyde, or John Galt.
Strident conservatives don’t care that Romney is currently that champion of the middle-class moderate they were quick to flee from in the primary. They just want to see President Obama defeated by any means necessary. They would vote for Elmer Fudd if it gave them a good shot of winning in November.
The debate on Tuesday just hammered this point home. You ask a Romney supporter what they like about their candidate and you’ll get a response along the lines of how he’s not President Obama. Romney’s impressive debate performances are fueled by an amazing ability to jettison former positions. Last week, this didn’t matter though. When pressed on issues such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, his “staunch” support of the coal industry and his positions on social issues, he ran out of room.
At some point you run out of rope when your campaign represents a bungee jump. Your momentum stops, because an outside force acts on you. Thankfully, that force decided to show up last week. What needs to happen in this last debate is not to try and debate Romney on his newest position but to remind people that this is simply the latest position. Make him juggle too many balls and eventually he will slip up.
Senator Kennedy employed this strategy to brilliant effect with his “multiple choice” remark, a quip that has been more referenced than anything we’ve seen in these two debates. Voters are awfully turned off when you don’t seem to stand for anything. It’s much better to be a man of principles, even if some people disagree with you, than someone who stands for nothing.