Does Mitt Romney's salvation lie in a well-timed riposte? The Romney campaign apparently thinks so, reportedly concocting a handful of zingers for the candidate to memorize and deploy to devastating effect at his first debate with President Obama. The idea is to create a "moment" that voters will remember amidst the shopworn paeans to American troops and the familiar argument over taxes. Assuredly, candidates in the past have used clever retorts to turn the tables on their opponents, with Ronald Reagan, for example, deftly defusing Jimmy Carter's Medicare attacks by saying, "There you go again." (Romney likes the line so much that he has openly considered sampling it himself.) But will the tactic work as well for Romney?
Yes. Romney needs to hit Obama rhetorically: Romney is heading into this debate "needing to score early and often," says Todd Spangler at The Detroit Free Press. If he stands there decent but witless, any hopes that the "Republican nominee has of winning the presidency on Nov. 6 could fade." A "stinging quip" could very well define the rest of the campaign.
"Mitt Romney needs to make quick points against President Barack Obama in presidential debate tonight"
No. Romney has to appear likable: "Conservatives want Mitt Romney to come out swinging early, often, and hard during" the first debate, says Joe Garofoli at The San Francisco Chronicle, "... to empty that rhetorical clip to show he's a fighter, and reverse the momentum of polls...." But after disparaging nearly half the country as government dependents who can't take care of themselves, he'll need to "be both aggressive and likable." A zinger could easily backfire.
"Romney runs risk firing zingers at debate"
Romney also needs to provide substance: "At a time when even his fondest supporters are pleading for more substance, Mitt Romney is giving them the political equivalent of junk food," says Dana Milbank at The Washington Post. "Those seeking some fiber — such as what, precisely, Romney would do differently if he were president —" could leave debate-watchers hungry.
"The zinger candidacy — all sugary platitudes, no protein"
And it doesn't help that the zingers are scripted: "If Romney plans some kind of scripted 'zinger' that somehow is designed to turn the whole election around — a variation on Ronald Reagan's immortal 'There you go again' — viewers are likely to see through the artifice," says Eugene Robinson at The Post. "He's not Reagan."
"Tonight, it's Mitt Romney vs. Mitt Romney"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- The amazing resurrection of Mitt Romney
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The real reason conservatives should be outraged that police killed a white youth
- 4 strategies for organizing your money, based on your personality
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The essential techniques that every home cook should know
- How America's broken immigration system is failing the military
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
Subscribe to the Week