Tonight, voters across the country will tune in to the first 2012 presidential debate. President Obama and Governor Romney will take the stage at the University of Denver to debate domestic policy from 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET. This is an incredibly important night for Romney, a chance for him to define himself to voters still on the fence and an opportunity to draw a clear, bold contrast between his vision and that of our President.
To be blunt, Romney must have a successful night. In order to make that happen, there are a few things I think he needs to do.
Governor Romney, here’s my advice:
1) Clearly articulate the discrepancy between Obama’s 2008 campaign promises and what he delivered as President. What did Obama say the unemployment rate would be if his stimulus was passed? Remember when Obama said that adding $4 trillion in debt was unpatriotic? Where was his leadership on tax reform and responsible budgeting? Was entertaining lobbyists part of his plan to change business as usual in Washington? The list goes on and on. People need to be reminded that what they voted for in 2008 is not what they received.
2) Dismantle Obama’s supposed allegiance to the middle class. What about Obamacare’s tax hikes on the middle class? Heritage reminds us: “Obamacare imposes a penalty—or tax increase—on Americans who do not purchase health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that most of those paying these taxes are middle-class individuals and families making less than 500 percent of the federal poverty level: $59,000 for an individual and $120,000 for a family of four. Three million lower-income and middle-class Americans will pay an estimated $2 billion in these ‘mandate taxes.'”
What about middle-class coal workers suffering at the hands of Obama’s overregulation? Perhaps some Americans weren’t paying attention when Senator Obama talked about bankrupting the coal industry in 2008. Remind them in light of coal plant closures in 2012.
Keep in mind that Obama will present his allegiance to the middle class within the larger context of his class-warfare strategy of imposing tax hikes on small business owners and other hard-working Americans he broadly labels “millionaires and billionaires.” Never–ever–be afraid to tackle class warfare. Let President Obama pit Americans against each other; be the leader who unites us under policies that benefit all.
3) Be bold in drawing a distinction between your vision and that of Obama (as reflected through his policies these last four years). If this is going to be a choice election, the choice needs to be abundantly clear. Part of outlining that distinction is a willingness to get specific. Voters have little patience for ambiguity at this point, particularly those disheartened Independents who fell for ‘hope’ and ‘change’ in 2008. When asked a specific question, give very specific answers–numbers, facts, figures, policy outlines, cost, and benefits. Details inspire voter confidence in you and your vision.
4) Delivery matters. Leave talking points, affected tones, rigidity, and timidity behind. Instead, bring to the stage realness, empathy for the plight of struggling Americans, fearlessness with respect to tackling Obama’s failed policies and this country’s challenges, and confidence about both your policy and your ability to execute it.
You have been painted by the opposition as out of touch, detached, and unable to connect with voters. The only person who can prove that caricature wrong is you. Remember that Ronald Reagan didn’t just get elected because people believed he was the guy who could fix things; he also got elected because underneath all of that political talk, voters saw a real person who connected with them. In the 2008 vice-presidential debate, Sarah Palin reminded voters of that element by focusing her attention not on Biden or the moderators, but right through the camera’s lens on the American people. Remember to talk directly to voters, and it will make all the difference.
Most importantly, recall that Obama has a tendency to get defensive and arrogant when challenged. Be his opposite. Welcome the challenges and refute the President’s claims with a down-to-earth, fact-filled rebuttal. Always remember that arrogance does not equal confidence. Confidence inspires voters; arrogance conveys that you think you’re smarter than the rest of us. Confidence is appealing; arrogance is not.
5) Finally, own the Bain Capital argument, the tax return argument, and any other petty distraction put forth by Obama to draw the curtain over the unemployment numbers, ballooning debt and deficit, overregulation, and the rest of his policy disasters.
Mitt, you have a choice: Either own the narrative or President Obama will. It’s up to you.