Newtie, writing in Human Events, calls the first presidential debate “the most important single event in Mitt Romney’s political career.”
Politico has a long piece* chronicling the pressure on Mittens and the conflicting advice he’s getting, with some telling him to be very aggressive against Obama and others saying he has to defer to the President’s personal popularity. Some excerpts:
Republicans, fretting about dwindling days for Romney to turn around his campaign, fear that if their nominee doesn’t come away with a decisive first-debate victory, he’ll continue to spiral downward and lose his last, best shot for a comeback.
The fear among donors and strategists: a break-even or so-so performance would subject Romney to a self-reinforcing cycle of criticism and pessimism in his own party that will send other Republicans fleeing and make it difficult for Romney to project a closing argument against Obama over the drumbeat of why-are-you-losing questions.
“It went from being important to being life-sustaining,” said GOP pollster Steve Lombardo, who worked for Romney in 2008. “Both from a fundraising perspective, to keep the money coming, and just a political perspective, it’s huge. Romney can’t just do well and hold his own — he has to win and win decisively. …”
But what rankles some Romney donors is that for months, they were told that there were three big moments bound to change the race — the vice presidential pick, the convention and the debates — and the first two haven’t put Romney in the lead.
“I think the first debate is exponentially more important than the rest of them,” said GOP strategist Curt Anderson. “The rest of them only matter if somebody makes a mistake. The first one sets the tone.”
What makes some veteran Republicans nervous as well is that a losing or even so-so first debate will trigger and ugly and perhaps unending round of intra-party sniping.
“That’s what really hurts a campaign: not what the other party is saying about you, but if your own people are taking shots at you,” explained former Reagan hand Frank Donatelli.
Another senior Republican operative said, …”Even in the case that he has [a] good debate, but not a stellar one, it’ll be perceived as a loss and that begets more bad coverage.”
Then, said this operative, down-ballot candidates begin distancing themselves publicly from the top of the ticket because “they think, ‘I’m not going to get any help from the top.’ It’s then every man for himself.” Emphasis added.
As I read this story my grin got wider and wider. I just can’t imagine Mitt doing that well and having some stunning, break-out performance. I think his only hope is a huge, really breath-taking mistake by the Prez. But I think a major, cringe-inducing mistake, either tone deaf or uninformed, by Mitt is actually far more likely.
* “Denver debate do-or-die for Mitt Romney,” Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman