This post first appeared on Thursday October 4, 2012, in The Washington Post as an untitled top comment.
In the Wednesday debate, both Romney and Obama did details, but Romney had a better game plan – if he wins the toss, start second so he can see Obama’s approach and delivery as the first speaker, and also so he can have the evening’s last word by which to leave the final impression on viewers.
But aside from debate game plans, the Romney team clearly pushed in the two-party debate planning process for the debates to focus on detail topics – the strategic goal being to cause Obama to focus on details and not have time to bring up his leadership in pulling the country out of a deep hole. The resulting dog that didn’t bark is that Obama never got into gear on his real value as a leader, versus his day-to-day work as a manager.
Then Romney played the next game plan card by claiming that Obama didn’t include Republican input to Obamacare. At that point, Obama fell into the trap and failed to point out that the Senate leadership had openly stated their top job was to make Obama a one-term president, and that the House leadership was internally whipsawed by the take-no-prisoners stance from the Tea Party movement.
In the debate, Obama did not point out that the lack of bi-partisanship was due to the Republican decision to offer no willingness to make any negotiable and workable contribution to either the process or the substance. In effect, the Republicans went on a sit-down strike, and then blamed Obama for not working with them. And Obama did not use Romney’s artificial complaint about cooperation to make the point that the Republicans were the ones who chose to sit it out while throwing darts at the work in progress.
Obama’s missed opportunity to set the major legislative story straight set the tone for the evening. From then on, it was detail after detail, where Romney’s business sense excels at building stories from highly artful and colorful numbers. Obama’s lifetime as a lawyer in ward politics did not give him the instinct to elevate the exchange to the place where he really excels, which is connecting leadership with operational action across the huge mix of players in DC to get things actually to happen. Wow.