Mitt Romney has a unique opportunity tonight to make a direct appeal to voters and contrast sharply with the sitting President of the United States.
Romney doesn’t have the problem that Ronald Reagan had coming into a debate. A good portion of Americans can envision him as President. What Romney must do is do everything he can to contrast and show the American people why Barack Obama is unfit to remain in the Oval Office based on the results of his first four years. This will require Romney to be forceful and attack the President. He doesn’t have to be mean, just resolute and not allow Obama to distract and distort.
One can bet that we’re going to hear Obama take swipes at Romney’s personal biography. Be it his Bain Capital record or his taxes, the President will focus a lot of his energy on attacking Romney personally. Romney must push back forcefully against this line of attack. John McCain didn’t directly deliver a defense to the “Bush’s third term” attack line until the final debate and the line stuck through Election Day. This cannot happen to Romney. I don’t think calling Obama a liar would be a smart idea, but Romney should absolutely make it clear that these attacks are offensive and untrue. He could also throw in a line about the Obama advisor that attacked his wife too. Frame the President’s campaign as a character assassination gambit, and make it clear he will fail. There shouldn’t be a false Obama attack line that isn’t met with a pushback twice as hard.
For people who favor Romney to be more conciliatory and work on his humanity, I would disagree. It’s too late for likeability to be improved, even if it was unfairly tarnished to begin with. Now is the time for issues and drawing a distinction on policy. This debate is on domestic issues, so Romney should only need to hammer home the point that there is not a single economic statistic that is better now than it was in January of 2009. We are not better of than we were when Barack Obama took office. That point alone should do mountains of damage to Obama. It’s an attack he cannot defend besides blaming President Bush, which Romney can attack as blame shifting.
The key is to be strong. Many conservatives are antsy about Romney’s supposedly being gun-shy and not going for Obama’s throat. Romney needs to put those critics to rest tonight. He needs to be as forceful and motivated as we’ve ever seen him. He has to act like he wants this job and that the future of America is hanging in the balance, because it is.
*The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.