Presidential Debate Expectations & the Media
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Suzanne’s debate analysis: “Presidential Debate and the Media”
By Suzanne Spurgeon, Founder, Women Media Pros
Mr. President, you know your debate strategy needs to change, when even your biggest cheerleaders, are talking trash about your performance in Wednesday’s Presidential debate. Chris Mathews is among the most vocal critic, asking, “Where was Obama tonight?” Over at “The View” it wasn’t just Elizabeth Hasselbeck who declared Governor Romney the victor.
So what happened? Is Romney just a more skilled debater with a better prep team? Was the President’s team too timid in its preparation? Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod is already promising some strategy changes. It’s hard to imagine now, that just days ago polls predicted the President would win this one overwhelmingly. Did over confidence play a role?
Maybe not all the fault lies with the Obama camp. Confrontational TV is the norm these days. From the shout fests on cable news programs to the battling housewives, it seems we have become accustomed to loud, lively, over-the-top arguments. Of course that wouldn’t be Presidential. But, with the stakes as high as they are, we do expect our candidates to show passion. One TV commentator described Mr. Obama as “professorial,” while Mr. Romney came off “Presidential.”
The two men will debate again on October 16th in a town meeting format—with questions on foreign and domestic policy. This format may better suit the President’s style. Team Obama may have underestimated Romney prior to this week’s debate, but they will have no excuses next time.
Both men were caught in half-truths and worse, by the fact checkers. Yet, much of the post debate discussions focused on style. And I think this is a great lesson, or reminder, for communication pros. Debates are not won by policies alone. The messenger needs to be as strong as the message. As I watched President Obama and Governor Romney, I was struck that neither was a President Clinton or President Reagan on that stage. Yes, Romney proved the better communicator in the first debate, but his opponent was not operating at 100%. Take two may have a very different outcome.
We’ll see a new moderator next time. I look forward to seeing CNN’s Candy Crowley take on this assignment. It’s not an easy job. Just ask Jim Lehrer. He’s been in that hot seat many times, yet it looked like he was the engineer of a runaway train on Wednesday. I look for Candy to get things back on track.
Next up: the VP debate. With those two you never know what to expect. It won’t draw as many viewers, but should spark some lively post-debate, debate.