When considering why President Barack Obama performed so poorly in comparison to Mitt Romney at Wednesday’s presidential debate, one should note that Romney has had plenty of recent debate practice in the Republican primary. But those debates also gave the Obama team a potential advantage: a record of Romney’s statements about current issues that Obama could be ready to challenge, fact-check and use as fodder for seemingly spontaneous one-liners. That Obama had no responses to Romney’s altogether predictable rhetoric was a completely missed opportunity.
From the very first question, Romney served up his trademark plan to make America competitive. When asked, “how you would go about creating new jobs,” Romney launched into his oft-repeated five part plan of energy independence, open trade, education, balanced budget and championing small business. Obama simply agreed with the Romney’s points and launched into an attack on Romney’s plan to cut taxes. Think of how it would have stunned the room if Obama had begun a rebuttal with, “You forgot part six for creating jobs: borrow money if you have to from your parents.”
The same with Romney’s three part plan for reducing the deficit, which he has laid out at least a half-dozen times.
Part one is to eliminate programs like the Public Broadcasting Service because, “I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.” Part two is to return programs like Medicaid to the states, and three, cut government employees. He usually says he wants a 10 percent cut in the number of federal employees.
Obama could have pointed out that the biggest government employers are the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security (“We know you like to fire people, but this isn’t Bain Capital, it’s national security” for example), or that Romney’s love of states’ rights doesn’t extend to marriage equality (Romney prefers a federal Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage) or Social Security, even though Romney has also said, “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Instead Obama again tried to out-Romney Romney by pointing out all the spending Obama has cut since taking office.
Other foreseeable items for which Obama had no effective answer were Romney’s claim that government consumes 42 percent of the economy, that he cut $716 billion from Medicare, and that Romney is a master of bipartisanship because he has weekly meetings with opposition leaders. When asked in a November 2011 primary debate whether Republicans should be worried about his willingness to compromise, Romney explained that his diplomatic secret in Massachusetts was kamikaze Democrats.
Next debate, Obama needs to be better prepared.