How Obama’s debate strategy may backfire

Obama says that he was “too polite” in the last debate with Gov. Romney.  Aside from the argument about whether someone can ever really be too polite, I’m not sure if Joe Biden’s performance (complete with eye-rolling snickers and interruptions) is an approach to which the President should aspire.  Getting more aggressive with Gov. Romney may backfire.

Obama’s chief appeal is not his record, it’s him.  People simply like him.

Want to know what type of voters didn’t like the less polite approach to the debate?  Women and independents.  If you can dig up some of the post-debate reactions on cable news channels, the overwhelming response from focus groups (composed of women and “undecided”/independents) was

that the debate was a tie on substance, but a loss for the incumbents on style.  Joe Biden’s unusual behavior was off-putting.  He looked like a bully (which is a bad thing in a country where legions of parents and educators are forming ranks to do battle against bullying).  Obama may be making the classic mistake of misdiagnosing the problem.  At the core to his debate debacle has more to do with factors out of his control (well…now out of his control): his record and his opponent.

On his record:  Even from a left-of-center viewpoint, the President’s last four years have produced mixed results at best.  Right-leaning people think it’s been catastrophic.  We can all argue what might have occurred had President Obama not chosen the policies he had when he took the reigns of government.  However, nobody can argue with the results.  Does anyone really think things have improved in America?  Even if you’re liberal, you know the answer is at best “meh…could have been worse.”  That’s not the answer President is looking for when seeking reelection.

On his opponent:  It seems as though President Obama believed what his campaign advertisements were saying about Gov. Romney’s positions, rather than paying attention to what the Governor  was saying about his positions.  That’s either a function of Obama not doing his homework, or being arrogant.  Either way, when the President repeated campaign talking points Romney, it should have come as no surprise when Gov. Romney dispensed of each one in short order.  What’s more, Gov. Romney isn’t saddled with a recent record of office which lends itself to easy attacks.  In the end, the Obama camp should adjust their expectations about the debates.  Gov. Romney has invested hundreds of hours in debate preparations since the end of 2011.  (Remember, he participated in 19 debates in the GOP primaries.)  That’s 19 debates where the Governor had to hone his message, prepare for zingers, and sharpen his approach to the camera and his opponents.

If you’ve ever read the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gadwell, you know that investing hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of hours into something makes you really, really good at it.  If I were in the Obama camp, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a turn-around debate performance.  At best, Obama will likely come out of the next two debates with a tie.  Some words from Malcolm Gladwell are relevant here:

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

(There’s also this quote: “Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from.”  Which doesn’t bode well for President Obama.)