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Reagan's ghost looms large over October debates

Will the ghost of 1980's election haunt Obama?
Will the ghost of 1980's election haunt Obama?

Mitt Romney should more than likely trounce President Obama in the debates. The testy primary fight did wonders for his debating skills and gave the GOP nominee a tougher skin for sharp criticism.

According to Robert Reich, the former Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, Romney “is going to be debating somebody who is not nearly as good a debater as his reputation.” Reich contends that Obama has been given way too much credit for his live questioning sessions (a rarity without teleprompter assistance) saying he “can seem kind of wooden” at times and/or “at a loss for words.”

Romney appears less scripted even when it is prepared text he is reading. It will come across in a more dramatic fashion when viewed by millions of Americans in the October debates. Obama will have to struggle for discipline in his remarks since he is notorious for his rambling answers in an attempt to control the stage.

Romney has extensive experience in a debate environment.

His first debating challenge on a statewide arena was against Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy in his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1994. It resumed with his then successful 2002 challenge for the Massachusetts governorship and the failed 2008 presidential bid.

Now his biggest stage of all will pit him against what many Democrats call the “second great communicator” - a play on words to Ronald Reagan's much deserved nickname during his presidency (1981-89).

Reich reflected about Romney's background in big business and the urgency of being on top off your game in multi-billion dollar deals. “He will have done a huge amount of homework. He will have moot debates with debating partners, as they all do. But he truly will have internalized a lot of the questions and the most-effective responses.”

Again, the majority of that sort of political debating experience will derive from multiple opponents in two presidential primaries. Look for Romney to incorporate Reagan's easy- going manner (“There you go again”) to Obama's more defensive and serious posturing.

Romney's main fallacies are his inability to speak above generalities and a perception of awkwardness once trapped in a situation he is neither aware of or prepared to defend. Note his disastrous cornering facing Texas Governor Rick Perry when he challenged him to a $10,000 bet on Perry's accusations when caught unprepared and forced to improvise.

Obama is an experienced debater. His scalp belt includes the likes of Hillary Clinton – no pushover as a debater. But where he may be most vulnerable is his own words from 2008, “Change you can believe in.” He will be forced to admit that didn't work with telling quotes like, “Things could be worse.”

Romney's debate experience with the ultra-liberal Ted Kennedy will instill confidence that he can counter Obama's wild claims and keep the president's feet firmly set in reality. Romney was capable of holding his own against Kennedy two weeks before the 1994 election coming against a man who had served five terms in the Senate.

The former governor will almost certainly say something in one of the debates like he said of Kennedy: “People in Massachusetts have been watching, for 32 years, Sen. Kennedy, they appreciate what he has done, but they recognize that our world has changed and that the answers of the 1960s aren’t working anymore.”

That could be as good a retort as Reagan's “Are you better off than you were four-years-ago?” to then-President Jimmy Carter. That will allow the nationwide audience to come to terms with Obama's service and quietly remove a failure for someone new.
No hard knuckle politics. That is Romney's natural style. The strategy is to attack your opponent, defend your record, anticipate the opposition’s arguments and be ready to counter.

Romney had over 50 televised hours of primary debating from September, 2011 until March, 2012. Who can forget Romney standing at the podium blinking furiously with a smirk on his face as his rabid opponents bashed him mercilessly. A calm amusement as his squabbling opponents outdid one another trying to break the primary leader.

Romney is seriously underrated as a debater. As David Axelrod put it, “It is very unlikely that he is going to come in there without knowing much of what he is going to say, or without having practiced it relentlessly or delivered it over and over.”

Something that Jimmy Carter neglected to consider with a well-versed and well-tested Ronald Reagan.

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