Monday, October 1, 2012

With Regard to Zingers

The Romney camp's big plan for Wednesday night's debate is to have a lot of different "zingers" ready to go that Mitt Romney can deploy to throw the President off-balance and, ultimately, fundamentally re-make the race.

This is what they told the New York Times. And this tells you everything you need to know about the Romney brain-trust. Here's some problems with the plan:

1) Romney is not good at zingers. If you can name one zinger Romney has used in his political career that was memorable enough to affect any race, I'd like to know what it is. Indeed, the fact that the Romney camp is referring to them as "zingers" as opposed to "great points" or "strong arguments" tells you what year they're living in. Imagine you needled your friend with some particularly good line and someone said, "Wow, great zinger!" You'd have no choice but to say, "Zinger? Really?" Romney is a character from 1950 and his campaign reflects the man.

2) Zingers don't win presidential elections. If you think about the most famous zingers is presidential/vice-presidential debate politics, you'll see what I mean. Reagan's, "there you you go again" did not change that race. Reagan's great joke about Walter Mondale's "youth and inexperience" did not change the election. Lloyd Bentsen's "you're no Jack Kennedy" did not change the race. George H.W. Bush looking at his watch (not really a zinger but a widely-discussed debate moment) didn't actually affect the race. Did Al Gore's sighing affect the race? No, there's no evidence it did. John McCain's use of "Joe the Plumber" was much-discussed ... but it had no effect.

3) The whole idea of a zinger is that it took everyone by surprise. You know ... as in ... ZING!!! If you tell the New York Times ahead of time, the zinger doesn't zing. It falls flat. Moreover, you've now raised expectations. Everyone is expecting and anticipating the well-rehearsed line. It can't possibly live up to expectations. There is now considerable danger that the zinger will fall flat. Finally, you've yet again allowed Obama to play the role of adult in the room. And, predictably, the Obama campaign is talking about how they aren't going to have any zingers and they are going to talk about their ideas. Oy.

All of this points to a campaign that is just not reading the public mood properly. As Ezra Klein points out, the Romney campaign still believes they just need to point out that the economy is very bad and that will be enough to win.
The idea that this election can be reshaped by a zinger speaks to a deeper problem in the Romney campaign’s fundamental view of the race. As they see it, Obama’s record is an obvious disaster and their job entails little more than pointing that out over and over again. That the polls haven’t seemed responsive to this theory hasn’t dissuaded them.
This thinking is wrong. And it is one of the reasons Romney is in such a deep hole right now.

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