Miracle Mitt’s Debate Plan

Anyone interested in a take from the Romney camp about what he intends to accomplish in tomorrow night’s debate should definitely read Robert Costa’s preview at National Review based on what appears to be extensive conversations with Team Mitt. It lays out five big objectives for Romney during the debate, aside from projecting personal warmth: (1) explaining the “choice” between the two candidates’ agendas; (2) modulating his natural “aggressiveness” (which actually sounds like “defensiveness when challenged”); (3) exhibiting “discipline” (i.e., not committing gaffes); (4) using fiscal and economic data effectively; and (5) deploying personal anecdotes to “introduce himself” to people just now tuning in to the election.

Costa’s account appears to assume that the substance of Romney’s rationale for votes is self-evident, so he doesn’t get into how Mitt “explains the choice” without discussing the Ryan Budget or his many areas of agreement with George W. Bush’s policies, or “introduces himself” without inviting Obama or the moderator (Jim Lehrer) to question his problematic record as Governor of Massachusetts. But my overall reaction is that Team Mitt really must think their guy is a Superman if he’s going to hit all five markers in an unpredictable debate that will probably frustrate either candidate’s plans.

I mean, seriously: Romney had a long, uninterrupted Convention speech to “introduce himself” to low-information voters, and by all accounts, did only moderately well. So he’s supposed to accomplish this along with four other big objectives in a 90-minute debate where spin will be constantly challenged? Here’s the part of Costa’s take that really made me wonder:

As I mentioned earlier, Romney’s campaign sees the first debate as more than a contest to win on points. They want to introduce Romney to the country. They saw Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention as part one of that project and the three presidential debates as the final chapter. Romney’s wife, Ann, stands the best chance of being mentioned at least once, but don’t count out his father, aides say, since Romney likes to discuss his father, the former head of American Motors, when talking about business and innovation.

Indeed, the most important anecdotes, aides say, may not even be family stories, but memories from his days at Bain Capital. Bain Capital’s rise from an offshoot of a consulting firm to a major power in the private-equity world is something Romney takes prides in, and his advisers hope that the candidate defines those years on his own terms.

If, God forbid, I were advising Mitt Romney, I’d urge him to steer clear of his privileged upbringing and Bain Capital. Nothing about his past performance indicates an ability to infallibly juggle the dynamite that always comes up in a presidential debate and to frame his own background in a way that doesn’t backfire. It sounds a lot like Mitt’s handlers are telling him what he wants to hear in encouraging him to talk about Dear Old Dad and his own love for the pirate life at Bain. He might as well announce he’d like to discuss his tax returns.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.