Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Expectations Game and the Presidential Debates

"Have we been telling you that our guy's great? Well, actually, he kinda sucks."

Both sides play expectation games - better to be underestimated and have your middling performance seen as a victory (Sarah Palin vs. Joe Biden) than to be expected to dominate and stumble. But this could be a case study. Following up on Chris Christie's bluster,
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says on CBS’ "Face the Nation" that Romney is going to do "extraordinarily well" in the debate and that after Wednesday night, "this whole race is going to be turned upside down."
Paul Ryan insists, in essence, "No, Romney's not a great debater, has never debated a single opponent, the President has been on a public stage for six years [don't ask what Ryan has been doing], and the debate's actually a pretty minor event."
The GOP vice presidential candidate calls President Barack Obama "a very gifted speaker" who’s been on the national stage for several years.1

Ryan also is making the point that Republican nominee Mitt Romney has never been in a one-on-one presidential debate.2

Ryan tells "Fox News Sunday" that the race is close and he expects it will stay that way until Election Day on Nov. 6.
I suspect that from Christie's perspective, Romney needs to excel in order to change the trajectory of his campaign, so he's expressing what he hopes to see. Ryan, on the other hand, wants an debate that isn't completely embarrassing to Romney (an outcome nobody expects to occur) to be taken as a draw, and anything better than that to be perceived as a victory.

Meanwhile, the President's campaign is advancing a less blustery version of Christie's message - Romney's a great debater who repeatedly beat his opponents in the primaries. (Compare and contrast, for example, the banter of boxers in a title match.)
1. And Romney has been doing exactly what for the last couple of decades of his life, starting with his Senate race against Kennedy? A shrinking wallflower, he.

2. A pretty thin distinction. He's been in one-on-one debates when seeking both state and national office.

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