Clearly, the first presidential debate turned everything upside down. Until then, it seemed that Obama was increasing his significant lead, and even improving on regaining the 2008 enthusiasm quotient. Then suddenly, Romney took control and Obama faded away. Even I have noticed that my interest in the campaign has faded.
History cannot be rewritten and the first debate won’t be forgotten. But the Democrats need to figure out what to do next. That great philosopher, Errol Garner said it best, when asked if he ever makes a mistake. He said something like: “everyone makes mistakes. You can’t avoid them. But the trick is, once you have played the wrong note, knowing which one to play next to make it all right again.” The question is; can the Democrats do that? It is not as easy as you might think.
I think they are on the right track in some ways, but there are more things that can, and I think, must be done.
First, Obama is going to have to look better on the second (and third) debate – he doesn’t have to “win”, but he has to keep pace. In fact, if he can keep up with Romney, it will look like the president is winning. If the second debate looks anything like the first, he will be in big trouble.
Second, they have to catch Romney in all of his inconsistencies. I think they are doing this with their various ads and stump speeches, but they have to do it continuously, over and over again. Luckily for the Democrats, this is easy. It is easy to show that no matter what Romney says now, he has said something opposite in the past, whatever the subject is. And, that no matter what Romney says in the future, there is no way you can believe him. And that electing a fundamentally dishonest president (this is certainly what he has been as a campaigner) holds the potential for disaster.
Of course, electing a dishonest president may only be a non-no if the opposing choice is a president that you think you would like. Now, we know that there is a hard core of voters who simply hate and don’t trust Obama, and worse think he’s a Manchurian candidate under the control of the Iranians. You can’t do anything about that. But it’s that center group, who were tending towards Obama and who were turned away by the debate that you have to attract. And at this point in time, you need to attract them through clear policies and programs.
It is my guess that a majority of these voters would approve Obama’s policies (if not, why would Romney have adopted most of them in his latest incarnation at the debate?), but they need to believe that Obama can implement them if elected to a second term. Regarding policy positions, the polls generally show that the administration’s policies are more popular than the oppositions across an array of topics.
So, to me, and here is where I think the campaign has so far fallen well short, it is a question not only of the individual candidate for the presidency, but the results of the Congressional elections, as well. And you hear little about this in the presidential campaigns. The most important thing in this election may not be the election of the president (although obviously this is important) but rather control of Congress.
We have seen that the combination of Obama as president and a Congress controlled by the Republicans has been a recipe for paralysis in so many important areas. Had Obama a workable Congress, we would be in much different shape today. So, it would seem to me that the Obama campaign should be focusing on the need to elect a Democratic Congress, but this just isn’t happening.
If Romney is elected president, and there was Democratically controlled House and Senate, we could assume, I believe, that President Romney would be what Bill Clinton defines as Moderate Mitt, as he was in Massachusetts when he dealt with a Democratic legislature. The problem is that if Romney is dealing with a Tea Party Republican House, we don’t know what kind of a president he will be – the fear is that he would make disastrous budget and tax decisions, appoint highly Conservative Supreme Court justices, intrude on personal liberties, and all the rest.
So, if I could advise the Democrats anything, I would be to focus not only on Romney but on the general disastrous Republican platform and the dangers of Republican Congressional control. Why they don’t do this, I am not certain.