Political Animal


October 02, 2012 4:13 PM Miracle Mitt’s Debate Plan

By Ed Kilgore

Anyone interested in a take from the Romney camp about what he intends to accomplish in tomorrow night’s debate should definitely read Robert Costa’s preview at National Review based on what appears to be extensive conversations with Team Mitt. It lays out five big objectives for Romney during the debate, aside from projecting personal warmth: (1) explaining the “choice” between the two candidates’ agendas; (2) modulating his natural “aggressiveness” (which actually sounds like “defensiveness when challenged”); (3) exhibiting “discipline” (i.e., not committing gaffes); (4) using fiscal and economic data effectively; and (5) deploying personal anecdotes to “introduce himself” to people just now tuning in to the election.

Costa’s account appears to assume that the substance of Romney’s rationale for votes is self-evident, so he doesn’t get into how Mitt “explains the choice” without discussing the Ryan Budget or his many areas of agreement with George W. Bush’s policies, or “introduces himself” without inviting Obama or the moderator (Jim Lehrer) to question his problematic record as Governor of Massachusetts. But my overall reaction is that Team Mitt really must think their guy is a Superman if he’s going to hit all five markers in an unpredictable debate that will probably frustrate either candidate’s plans.

I mean, seriously: Romney had a long, uninterrupted Convention speech to “introduce himself” to low-information voters, and by all accounts, did only moderately well. So he’s supposed to accomplish this along with four other big objectives in a 90-minute debate where spin will be constantly challenged? Here’s the part of Costa’s take that really made me wonder:

As I mentioned earlier, Romney’s campaign sees the first debate as more than a contest to win on points. They want to introduce Romney to the country. They saw Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention as part one of that project and the three presidential debates as the final chapter. Romney’s wife, Ann, stands the best chance of being mentioned at least once, but don’t count out his father, aides say, since Romney likes to discuss his father, the former head of American Motors, when talking about business and innovation.
Indeed, the most important anecdotes, aides say, may not even be family stories, but memories from his days at Bain Capital. Bain Capital’s rise from an offshoot of a consulting firm to a major power in the private-equity world is something Romney takes prides in, and his advisers hope that the candidate defines those years on his own terms.

If, God forbid, I were advising Mitt Romney, I’d urge him to steer clear of his privileged upbringing and Bain Capital. Nothing about his past performance indicates an ability to infallibly juggle the dynamite that always comes up in a presidential debate and to frame his own background in a way that doesn’t backfire. It sounds a lot like Mitt’s handlers are telling him what he wants to hear in encouraging him to talk about Dear Old Dad and his own love for the pirate life at Bain. He might as well announce he’d like to discuss his tax returns.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • John Dillinger on October 02, 2012 4:22 PM:

    Mitt's bringing up his father's business career will let Obama tee up "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Pass the popcorn.

  • AfGuy on October 02, 2012 4:31 PM:

    And then that nervous laugh begins...

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 02, 2012 4:35 PM:

    Indeed, the most important anecdotes, aides say, may not even be family stories, but memories from his days at Bain Capital.

    Yeah, about those good ol' days of corporate raiding. And of firing people. And of chillaxin' with the NASCAR owners in the Caymen Islands. And setting up his first Swiss bank account. Do go on, Mitt, we'd love to hear more. I think he deserves all 90 minutes to himself to wax poetic.

    I wonder if Obama's team is coaching the President on how to keep Mitt talking after he drops one of those "zingers"...

  • gaardvark on October 02, 2012 4:36 PM:

    I have a suggestion on how he might discuss his time at Bain:


  • Ronald on October 02, 2012 4:40 PM:

    an interesting read and a good take on it, Ed.

    And if this is their strategy, Mr. Romney is in deep doo-doo.

    1) The 'choice' thing hasn't worked, despite millions of dollars in advertisements.
    2) He has shown a distinct lack of ability to avoid the smirks, squirms, and condescending attitudes that have turned off so many people. God help him should Mr. Obama start landing some blows and he gets testy.
    3) He can probably show good discipline, but the more disciplined he is, the more wooden he will appear.
    4) The more he gets into policy details, the more he can get hammered on those details, since everybody knows they won't add up. Prediction: his 'five points' plan is about as detailed as he'll get.
    5) Buahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. He has had soooo many opportunities to define and re-define himself it is ridiculous. There is nothing he can say to 'introduce' himself. Anybody who hasn't been paying attention to the elections up to now is not likely going to sit through a debate. Simple as that.

    Mr. Romney has quite an uphill battle to climb. In the primary debates, all he had to do was sit still while the other clowns attacked and whinged. Now he's in the 'attack' seat and all Mr. Obama has to do is sit there (well, stand there) and look Presidential.

  • gregor on October 02, 2012 4:42 PM:

    Typical for the CEO of a failing enterprise: if he just puts up a new face in front of the shareholders and the customers all would be well.

    Never address the fundamental problem: few if not no one want to buy what you are selling.

  • c u n d gulag on October 02, 2012 4:44 PM:

    Hello, I'm Mitt Romney, and I'm a human Rolodex.

    I know a lot of very important people and their addresses and phone numbers, and I go 'round and 'round in circles.

    Vote for me!

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 02, 2012 4:44 PM:

    Are Mitt's advisers sure about which team their prepping?

    I've always thought that the GOP had it in for Mitt, but this is just cold blooded. They're definitely setting him up on a suicide mission.

  • bigtuna on October 02, 2012 4:45 PM:

    You can put lipstick on a pig, and it is still a pig.

  • T2 on October 02, 2012 4:48 PM:

    my two cents:
    1-Mitt's agenda has been hidden up to now, for a reason
    2-he's a spoiled rich kid - can't change that
    3-his main problem is that he has robot-like mannerisms...can't change that
    4-using real data based on the Ryan plan will get him defeated, so he'll lie about it
    5-he's a spoiled rich kid - and it is obvious, and he can't mention LDS

  • MuddyLee on October 02, 2012 4:49 PM:

    Mitt is a lesser man than his dad George Romney - who actually was a job creator - why remind people of this? Bring up the NFL owners like John Elway - you know, the ones who thought they could get by with the substitute refs instead of "sharing the wealth". Talk about Bush who is speaking at the Cayman Island investment seminar.

  • JM917 on October 02, 2012 4:51 PM:

    To take just one potshot at the National Review "forecast" of Romney's debate strategy (and there are many more inviting targets that I don't have time to ennumberate). Romney had better not bring up his dad as a model of civic virtue and innovative business strategy. Any shout-out to old George Romney will give Obama a huge opening to pounce: "Yes, and your father wasn't afraid to publish ten years of tax returns, which showed that he hadn't even taken his maximum deductions. And he made his money by running a company that built good cars and paid its workers good wages. What a good man he was! How proud would he have been that YOU, Governor Romney, made YOUR money by destroying companies, shipping jobs to China, laying off workers, destroying communities, off-shoring your money to the Cayman Islands, paying a minimal 14% in federal taxes, and not letting anyone see more than two years of IRS returns? Your father said that revealing just a couple of years' worth of taxes might be misleading. He was right. How misleading might YOUR two years of tax returns be?"

    I really do hope that that National Review pundit is seriously advising Mitt on debate strategy. If he is, Mitt is heading for a gigantic bust come Wednesday night.

  • Just Guessing on October 02, 2012 5:00 PM:

    "He might as well announce hed like to discuss his tax returns."

    Best laugh I have had all day. Good one.

    I'll be watching just in case he does!

  • JR on October 02, 2012 5:32 PM:

    Please bring up Dad! George Romney capped his own salary - equal to just over $1million today - understanding that a well-paid worker could afford to buy his cars. Why dies Mitt reject this for an investor-CEO economy?

  • N.Wells on October 02, 2012 6:07 PM:

    So I'm trying to imagine Romney doing personal warmth while hitting all his other goals, and I'm failing miserably. I'm not doing very well imagining his carefully practiced zingers either:

    "I'd love to discuss my tax returns, but they are so complicated that the four weeks before the election isn't long enough to go over them, and you wouldn't understand it anyway. Why, I made so much money that they make the Ryan budget look simple in comparison. You really should have asked for them earlier, heh heh heh."

    "Tsk, tsk, Mr. President, I've got a horse that can tap-dance better than that. If you want, I could lend you his trainer, heh heh heh."

    "Wow, trying to follow a statement like that reminds me of the time I had to clean up after strapping the dog to the roof of my car, heh heh heh."

    "No, our health plans are completely different. For example, RomneyCare starts with a R."

    "A president has to be the motivator-in-chief, and my background has given me those skills. For example, whenever I see Rafalca, I walk around muttering "glue factory, glue factory", and likewise I got an unbelievable increase in productivity at American Pad and Paper just by quietly saying, "That's a nice little pension plan fund you've got there - be a shame if anything happened to it!"

    "There you go again. You just can't stop distorting my record, can you? I was clearly pro-life from 1986 to 1994, pro-choice from 1994 to 2007, and pro-life from 2007 to the present, NOT THE REVERSE!"

  • Kathryn on October 02, 2012 6:20 PM:

    Does Team Romney plan on an uninterrupted 90 minute infomercial? Tall order for Mr, Romney, has he memorized his pitch complete with zingers? My money is on over prepared and under performing.

  • Charles on October 02, 2012 7:06 PM:

    Parts 3 and 5 are irreconcilable. If there's one thing I've learned about him, it's that Romney has no idea how he comes off to other people, probably because at no point in his life has he had to care. He simply cannot "introduce himself with anecdotes" without walking through a minefield of which he shows no awareness.

  • exlibra on October 02, 2012 7:07 PM:

    A bit depends on the moderator, of course, but, like Kathryn, I'm amazed at Romney's game-plan and for the same reasons. Does he really think he'll get to deliver a 90 minute monologue, while "that one" stands by, mute and cowering?

  • ceilidth on October 02, 2012 7:22 PM:

    Lovely: annecdotes from Bain to help us see him as what? Less of a greedhead, a kind job creator of poverty level jobs? Contrast with good old dad: the guy whose workers were well paid and who had strong and consistent liberal Republican credentials. This is going to work how? I can just see it: Obama talks about what a progressive guy George Romney was and what a contrast Mr. Flip Flop is and Mr. Flip Flop acts aggrieved because Obama shouldn't say a word about George Romney's policies. This should be fun.

  • ClearEye on October 02, 2012 7:28 PM:

    I cannot understand how someone about whom we know so little has advanced to this point.

    I say ''know'' in the sense of truly understand, which is impossible for anyone but Romney's most intimate connections.

    His studied ambiguity as campaign strategy, combined with his within day reversals on policy and the extraordinary things he blurts out give us no certainty about who he is or what he might do as President.

    That said, I expect he will do well in the first debate. He has been preparing for months and seems to excel when he only has to do one thing at a time.

    Again, this does not qualify him to be President (in fact it disqualifies him). But his intelligence and drive to succeed (see the Nicholas Lemann profile in the Oct 1 New Yorker) suggest he will surprise us.

  • T2 on October 02, 2012 8:20 PM:

    @ ClearEye....if you watched the GOP primary, you know how Mitt advanced. He kept his mouth shut and watched the opponents self destruct. Obama won't self destruct.

  • cwolf on October 02, 2012 9:58 PM:

    I've rearranged essintial Romneys Priorities so they make for a zinger of an acronym, as well as a well known call for help:

    1 - Modulate
    2 - be Effective
    3 - be Disciplined
    4 - Introduce himself
    5 - offer Choices


  • Hue and Cry on October 02, 2012 10:38 PM:

    Throwing out zingers.
    That being the plan.
    They advertised that was the plan.
    Artless and disingenuous.
    Muddle on, Mitt. Your chaos continues. Fog and haze.
    Soap, soap up, make foam, make froth.
    Hope to see sweat on his upper lip.

  • Nick on October 02, 2012 10:40 PM:

    Obama, unfortunately, is too nice to rip Mitt even when the chance is teed up. I think we'll all be frustrated by that tomorrow night.

  • Anonymous on October 03, 2012 12:27 AM:

    No, this is the song for Mitt.


  • James M on October 03, 2012 1:12 AM:

    2 things:

    1. The fundamental flaw in Mitt's strategy is that the more people get to know him the less they like him!

    2. Mitt will 'win' the first debate. The main reasons are that most presidential challengers do (apparently 5 out of the last 6) and expectations for Mr. Romney have been set so ridiculously low that unless he stumbles over both feet, starts speaking in tongues or slaps one of the moderators he will be deemed the winner.

    The articles and reports on the following day will claim a 'Romney resurgence' and describe how President Obama was 'off his game'. BO will win the 2nd debate, sparking media reports of how 'he has regained his stride', and the 3rd debate will be 'a tie'.

    Hate to be so cynical about these things, but I've seen this movie before!