Debates are last chance for Romney to create a ripple

S.F. Examiner File PhotoMelissa Griffin

The first of three presidential debates will take place this coming Wednesday, and we’ve all been reading that this is “The Biggest Thing Since That Last Big Thing.”

The first game-changer was supposed to be Mitt Romney’s choice for vice president. Then it was the conventions. But when none of those produced much more than a ripple in the murky political waters, the hopes of Republicans have come to rest with the debates.

The economy and jobs is the subject of Wednesday’s debate, so Romney will dissect Barack Obama’s last four years as president and Obama will inspect Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. Anything can happen, but if prior debate performances are any guide, here’s what we can expect.

This could get very snippy. When debating John McCain in 2008, Obama frequently interrupted his opponent with “that’s not true” or “that’s not the case” and then offered an impromptu rebuttal. Romney doesn’t take kindly to being interrupted and got into a heated exchange with Rick Santorum at a debate in January when Santorum tried to interject while Romney was speaking. These two dynamics can make for some volatile moments. With Romney suffering from a “likability deficit,” I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama goads Romney a bit to see if he’ll lash out and appear petty.

Candidates will each have talking points and stick to them regardless of the question. At one debate in February, Romney was giving an evasive answer to a question presented by moderator John King; when King pressed him to respond to the question, Romney snapped, “You get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want.” At another debate, he answered a two-part question by Santorum with, “I’ll do it in the order I want to do.”

With Obama, instead of answering a question, he will say, “I think it’s important to know/think about/remember” some narrative on the topic he wants to give. For example, at a 2008 presidential debate, moderator Tom Brokaw asked, “How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got — got us into this global economic crisis?” Obama answered, “I think it’s important just to remember a little bit of history. When George Bush came into office, we had surpluses. And now we have half­a­trillion­dollar deficit annually.” After a bit more waxing about Bush’s mismanagement, he ended with, “I’m going to spend some money on the key issues that we’ve got to work on.” Taa Daa!

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