It’s the Enthusiasm, Stupid

Nate Silver says that Joe Biden’s mission tonight is to be the anti-Larry David — he needs to whip up enthusiasm.

From “Biden’s Debate Mission:  Whip Up Democrats to Blunt Romney’s Gains,” FiveThirtyEight, NYT:

When [Biden] takes the debate stage…, he will probably not be able to erase all of Mitt Romney’s gains in the polls after his debate performance….

“For the first time since Aug. 28, the FiveThirtyEight model projects Mr. Obama to win fewer than 300 electoral votes.  But Mr. Biden may be able to do something about the yawning gap in enthusiasm between Democratic and Republican voters.  That gap might be the greatest threat to Mr. Obama’s winning another term…, and it seems to have widened since the Denver debate.

“This year, the [enthusiasm] gap has been wider than usual. … But since the Denver debate, some polling firms have shown an especially large split between registered and likely voters.

“Gallup…found the split to be five points in Mr. Romney’s favor.  That was enough to put him ahead by two points among likely voters in the Tuesday poll — even though he trailed Mr. Obama by three points among registered voters.

“Pew Research…found a four-point difference in their post-debate poll —  enough to account for all of the lead they found for Mr. Romney.

“It is probably too late for Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama to do anything about the high level of Republican enthusiasm.

“In general, it is easier to persuade voters to turn out than to compel them to change their minds.

It seems plausible that roughly half of Mr. Romney’s post-debate bounce…has resulted from the shift in enthusiasm.  It will be Mr. Biden’s job in Danville to work on that half of the problem.  Then Mr. Obama will need to improve his performance in the last two debates to get back the rest of what he lost in Denver.”  Emphasis added.

Do Remaining Debates Work Against an Obama Comeback?

The next Obama-Romney debate on October 16 is a town-hall forum, rather than a head-to-head with podiums like the last one.  Given that the two men will respond to audience members, I’m not sure how much opportunity Obama will have to really pound Mitt’s lies the way he needs to.  The audience will act as a buffer and offer Mitt some protection.

Bill Clinton told Obama donors on Monday that “if either of them really tries to take a question and use it to attack the other, that’s going to come across poorly.”*

The third debate on October 22 is about foreign policy.  Unless Mitt says something incredibly stupid, foreign policy isn’t going to decide the election, and Obama won’t have the chance he needs to say what he should have said on domestic issues.

Bottom line — Obama won’t have another debate with the first one’s format to go after Mitt on domestic issues.  It’s going to be even more challenging for him to fix last week’s disaster in the remaining debates.  Each debate is unique and precious.  You can’t afford to throw one away as Obama did.

*  “Obama Is Urged to Get Tough,” Peter Nicholas and Carol E. Lee, WSJ

Slippery Mitt Slides Agan

From “How Romney Is Obscuring His Upper Income Tax Cuts,” Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo:

Seeking to neutralize the Obama campaign’s charge that his tax proposal will disproportionately benefit the wealthy, Mitt Romney has subtly changed the way he talks about his plan, in a way that obscures what its impact would be.

Before the general election, Romney consistently argued that he wanted the wealthy to pay the same share of the overall tax burden as they do today. Now, as often as not, he claims he doesn’t want to reduce their burden at all.

The two descriptions of his plan have wildly different implications — and he’s effectively using their superficial similarities to hide the real impact his proposal would likely have.

“Romney’s official proposal is to cut all marginal rates by 20 percent and to eliminate unspecified tax loopholes for high incomes. When nonpartisan experts analyzed the plan they concluded that under friendly assumptions his rate cuts will either require a higher burden on the middle class or an increase in the deficit.

That conclusion caught Romney’s campaign flatfooted — and so he changed the pitch. Now he promises that the middle class will see a reduced tax burden, the rich will pay the same amount, and the deficit won’t rise. But that describes an entirely new tax reform proposal — one which experts also say would increase the deficit.

“Yet despite this major change, Romney has been able to avoid direct scrutiny about it from the media, even as he bounces back and forth between insisting that high income earners as a group will continue to pay the same share of the taxes as they do now and asserting that individual high earners will pay the same proportion of income as they do now.”  Emphasis added.

Mitt is counting on the American people’s being both bad at math and too lazy to bother.  You’ll see Paul Ryan counting on that tomorrow night.  Short of a blackboard (borrowed from Glenn Beck?), I’m not sure that Biden can shame Ryan successfully.

The Ann and Tagg Intervention

From “Inside the campaign:  The Romney rebellion,” Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Politico:

“For months, Ann Romney and her eldest son, Tagg, were dutifully supportive of the political professionals running Mitt Romney’s campaign. All the while, their private frustration was mounting.

“Shortly before the first debate, it finally boiled over.

“What followed was a family intervention. The candidate’s family prevailed on Mitt Romney, and the campaign operation, to shake things up dramatically, according to campaign insiders. The family pushed for a new message, putting an emphasis on a softer and more moderate image for the GOP nominee — a “let Mitt be Mitt” approach they believed more accurately reflected the looser, generous and more approachable man they knew.

“Chief strategist Stuart Stevens — whom the family held responsible for allowing Romney’s personal side to be obscured by an anti-Obama economic message — has seen his once wide-ranging portfolio “fenced in” to mainly the debates, and the television advertising that is his primary expertise, according to campaign officials. Tagg Romney, channeling his mother’s wishes, is taking a much more active role in how the campaign is run.

“The family rebellion, long building despite Mitt Romney’s initial reluctance to change, reached a climax in September, amid mounting evidence that the status quo was doomed to failure. The course correction came after internal polls showed him losing nearly every swing state and a loud chorus of second-guessing among prominent conservatives.

When the history of this campaign is written, the family intervention will be among the most important turning points in the Romney saga. Until the weeks before the first presidential debate, the candidate sided with Stevens over his family’s skepticism, accepting the strategist’s view that the best way to win was to point out President Barack Obama’s flaws and articulate generic promises to do better.

Even now, many Romney officials wonder whether the change can be sustained. In essence, Romney is trying to undergo a political metamorphosis — to shed an image of personal stiffness, and to emerge loose and willing to compromise. Romney, advisers concede, is at his worst when improvising — and this shift is the biggest improvisation of the campaign. Right now, Romney is described as going with the flow, trying to quickly grow into this new public persona, most notably with his decision to tell personal stories on the stump.

“But one big reason for hope inside the Romney campaign is that conservatives were so down on the campaign before the debate — and so rapturous during it — that they will give him a lot of maneuvering room to talk in more moderate ways.”  Emphasis added.

Sure, he has all the maneuvering room he wants to talk like a moderate now.  But maneuvering room to govern like a moderate?  I don’t think so. 

That’s what voters need to understand.  The crazies still control the party, and they would control a President Romney with the hanging-sword of a primary in 2016.


Biden Can Only Do So Much

There’s obviously tremendous pressure on Joe Biden to perform well in his debate with Paul Ryan on Thursday.  But there are limits to what Biden can accomplish because there are two concerns from last week’s debate.

Biden can “stop the bleeding” by pointing out the Romney/Ryan lies and making a clear contrast between Dem and GOP policy positions.  He can and must make a strong policy case for his side as being on the side of all those who aren’t already rich.

But policy is only one problem — the other is personality, and only Obama can fix that, Biden can’t do it for him.  Obama didn’t look or sound presidential last Wednesday.  He didn’t inspire confidence, he inspired incredulity.

Biden is the #2 guy.  Only the #1 guy can convince us that he wants and deserves to remain the most powerful person in the world.

Biden can’t fix it, he can only keep it from getting worse and set up Obama to make it right on the 16th.


It’s the Single Women, Stupid

From “Dem pollster delivers wake up call to Obama,” Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, WaPo:

“Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg is not known for flinching from delivering bad news to Democratic politicians, and his new diagnosis of Obama’s slippage in the polls is no exception.

“Greenberg told me in an interview that his new research persuaded him that Mitt Romney beat Obama in the debate for a simple reason. Unmarried women — a critical piece of Obama’s coalition — did not hear Obama telling him how they would make their lives better. By contrast, they did hear Romney telling them he’d improve their lives.”

And Mitt doesn’t have to get these women to come out and vote for them, he just needs to “curb their enthusiasm” for Obama and get them to stay home.

Andrew Sullivan Goes from Despair to Rage

“Obama needs to get off his fucking pedestal and get some work done: have crisp answers to what he wants to do; sharp exposures of Romney’s constant inconsistencies and lies; and a reminder of how massive a task he faced four years ago and how he has largely helped us turn the corner. The next Romney-Obama debate requires an Obama come-back of heroic proportions. That’s where your narrative ends, Barack, doesn’t it?”

“Non-Dissent of the Day,” Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast

I’m waiting to see where we stand at 10:30 PM on October 16 before I freak out.  That’s when we’ll know if we should still have hope or if we’re heading for a change in the Oval.

Andrew Sullivan Despairs

From “Did Obama Just Throw The Entire Election Away?,” Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast:

“Look: I’m trying to rally some morale, but I’ve never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week – throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement? And after Romney’s convincing Etch-A-Sketch, convincing because Obama was incapable of exposing it, Romney is now the centrist candidate, even as he is running to head up the most radical party in the modern era.

“Maybe if Romney can turn this whole campaign around in 90 minutes, Obama can now do the same. But I doubt it. A sitting president does not recover from being obliterated on substance, style and likability in the first debate and get much of a chance to come back. He has, at a critical moment, deeply depressed his base and his supporters and independents are flocking to Romney in droves.

“I’ve never seen a candidate self-destruct for no external reason this late in a campaign before.

“I’m trying to see a silver lining. But when a president self-immolates on live TV, and his opponent shines with lies and smiles, and a record number of people watch, it’s hard to see how a president and his party recover. I’m not giving up. If the lies and propaganda of the last four years work even after Obama had managed to fight back solidly against them to get a clear and solid lead in critical states, then reality-based government is over in this country again. We’re back to Bush-Cheney, but more extreme. We have to find a way to avoid that. Much, much more than Obama’s vanity is at stake.”  Emphasis added.

I’m not as down-in-the-dumps as Sullivan.  But the President can’t do this again — I won’t say one and done, but I would say two and through.  The debate on October 16 really will be the most significant ninety minutes of his career.