An Opportunity Already Missed: Why the Presidential Debates Can't Help Romney


The next few weeks offer the last chance for Mitt Romney to convince America that he really would be a better president than Barack Obama. This situation is not good for the Romney/Ryan campaign.

After months of pointing out Obama’s underwhelming achievements and arguing over Medicare nuances, it seems that the former governor and the chair of the house budgetary committee have run out of ways to make themselves appealing. Down in the polls, and down in pretty much every key state, the GOP candidates need a substantial boost or they will be history’s next losers.

That situation is not good for the Republicans. This far into the race, the most noteworthy parts of the campaigns have already passed. It’s much harder to gain numbers in the polls by gradually trying to fight against negative momentum; something big needs to happen.

And then there are the debates. On Oct. 3, the final and most interesting part of the race begins. Since the debates are usually game-changers, the Romney campaign should be thrilled to have this chance to make big gains in the polls.

In theory, the president should be the one struggling to defend his policies that have been rather ineffective (no one looks positively at an 8.1 percent unemployment rate) and, as a result, rather unpopular. In fact, since FDR, we haven’t seen any president reelected with such a high unemployment rate, and very few reelected presidents have had as low an approval rating as Obama. Romney should be able to capitalize on this. He needs something big, and the debates are always big.

Unfortunately for Romney, however, the debates are not his ticket to the White House, unless he really shocks us all. The problem with assuming the debates could be used to Romney’s advantage is that it assumes Romney is rhetorically capable of compellingly capitalizing on anything. For Romney to do well in the debates, he actually has to debate.

Since when have we ever been able to watch Romney speak and say to ourselves, “Wow! That was a good point”? Never! (Or at least, rarely; I can’t speak for everyone). It is likely that when Romney and Obama get on stage together next Wednesday, it will not be Romney’s comeback moment. If anything, Mitt Romney will be doing good if he stays alive.

Thinking about the debates reveals what many people have been saying for a long time: this election is underwhelming and embarrassing. On one side, we have an incumbent whose failure in policy should historically ensure his ousting, and on the other side we have an unpersuasive robot whose biggest boost in popularity has been associating himself with a different person (Paul Ryan).

Too bad the VP debate doesn’t matter.

John Sailer is a sophomore Politics, Philosophy and Economics major and a proud member of the House of Bonhoeffer. He competes for the King's Debate Society and loves discussing all things academic and political.