Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Debate Coach Story

The most overrated element in Mitt Romney's big Florida win? Has to be his new debate coach. Sure, you can make an interesting story of the fact that Romney had access to the best that the conservative network has to offer. Indeed, you could talk about how former Liberty U. coach Brett O'Donnell's willingness to work for the Mittster is a good example of how Romney won the nomination: basically, he managed to dominate moderate conservatives while being competitive among social conservative, Tea Partiers, and other more extreme groups. The specific effects O'Donnell may have had on Romney's rhetoric are interesting, too.

However. As far as actual coaching is concerned, Romney was widely seen as the best debater among Republicans right up through the New Hampshire primary; a lot of the debate reviews, especially in the fall, were along the lines of "well, Romney of course was the best, but let's find something else to write about because it's boring to keep pointing out how much better he is at this than the rest of the field." The one thing that Romney seemed to really have problems with -- and here I'm very much agreeing with what I think was the conventional wisdom -- was talking about his wealth. And in my view, at least, that didn't change in the Florida debates.

Remember, one of the reasons people think that Romney got to the point he was at in the GOP race is through crushing his most serious opponents, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry, in debates. I don't know whether O'Donnell helped Romney on the margins or not, but the idea that his coaching was a major factor in Florida seems extremely far-fetched to me.

7 comments:

  1. I think it was more that Pawlenty and Perry crushed themselves than that Romney crushed them.

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  2. Romney spoke very well in his victory speech last night. But the content is hollow rhetoric. Has his coaching in the last few weeks left him without much to say on substance? Granted it's a victory speech, but it's like a list of debating points in which almost all of the points made against Obama are false or pitches to the Right (Obama's vision is to "grow the government", he "orders religious organizations to violate their consciences", he believes US leadership in the world "is a thing of the past" (sounds like Ron Paul, really), Obama's foreign policy is "appeasement and apology", Obama's strategy is "cradle to grave assurance that government is always the solution" and so on). Must be embarrassing to be Mitt.

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  3. If Mitt was getting good coaching, you'd expect his tone-deafness on his wealth to be improving. As his little "screw the very poor" debacle this morning shows, he's just not very good at the optics on his wealth. Honestly, I think he just really and truly doesn't understand.

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    1. I don't think that was a mistake. I think he's deliberately playing to the "I'm paying out all my salary in taxes so that the poor can live the easy life" crowd.

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    2. He may well be; it does seem like the kind of Luntz-tested pablum that the GOP wants to sell this year.

      I think that strategy is flawed, though. Another candidate could pull it off, but I think Mitt already has problems reaching out to the 99.994% that he's not in.

      "Folsky" W. could pull it off. He was just regular folks, with a Texas twang, nevermind that his money and connections go back generations. The Romney's might be newer to prestige than the Bushes are, but Mitt just doesn't seem to be able to connect outside of the country club gates.

      So, he might have meant to do that. If so, then it wasn't a mistake, but a strategic error (at least, from my perspective)

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  4. I would not as easily dismiss it because Romney had another major weakness in the debates in addition to talking about his wealth and taxes: He was terrible attacking others. Even when Rick Perry fumbled almost every attack line, Romney was never really able to counter him without seeming ruffled. Not sure that O'Donnell made the difference here but that was the one area in which Romney improved dramatically from pre- to post-South Carolina debates.

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  5. Obviously the debates are overrated in the first place, but even beyond that, I think the media overrated Gingrich's debate performances because it desperately wanted a race rather than a coronation. Gingrich never REALLY had a forensically solid debate; he had only one note which was to continually bash the media.

    Romney was up and down, and he's by no means an ideal debater (he tends to answer the question he wants to answer instead of the one that is asked, which may explain as well why he doesn't hold press conferences), but he at least could discuss the topics that were brought up and contrast his positions to those of his opponents as well as to Obama. He was far better than Gingrich.

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