The second presidential debate: 3 stylistic tics that hurt Mitt Romney
Squabbling about the rules rarely wins points from the punditry
The second debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney was not the most civilized affair in American history, with both candidates rhetorically jabbing at each other with unusual ferocity. "At moments their town-hall-style engagement felt more like a shouting match than a presidential debate," say Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker at The Washington Post. "The two men challenged each other on the facts, talked over each other, and stalked each other across the stage." But while Obama certainly crossed the lines of decorum on occasion, it was Romney who was singled out by conservatives and liberals alike for his less-than-gentlemanly attitude toward Obama and moderator Candy Crowley. Here, three stylistic tics that may have hurt Romney's image:
1. He argued too much about the rules One of Romney's biggest flaws as a debater is his "tendency to argue pointlessly with the moderator and his opponents over the rules of order," says Ross Douthat at The New York Times. Both candidates bickered with Crowley "about turns and time allotments, but Romney went at it earlier and more often — sometimes justifiably, but never successfully." Romney wasted "too much time demanding another minute or the final say or a chance to go back to something from a previous answer," says Alan Schroeder at CNN. Instead of making him "look strong and in command," the tactic "reinforces a negative perception that the candidate needs to dispel: That of a plutocrat grabbing every last crumb he thinks he deserves."
2. He steamrolled the moderatorRomney "came on way too strong" with Crowley, says MSNBC's Joe Scarborough. "You don't run over a female moderator, you just don't. Stylistically, you don't. It's very dangerous." Indeed, Romney's "constant interruptions of the moderator… seemed rude in a way they did not when the two candidates stood together onstage" in the first debate, says Joshua Green at Bloomberg. He "even asked her to intercede by calling her name three times, 'Candy, Candy, Candy,' a recall of a much-mocked moment in a Republican primary debate when he repeatedly asked Anderson Cooper of CNN to referee a dispute," says Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times.
3. He didn't treat Obama with enough respect A "little rudeness is to be expected" in a combative debate, but "being rude is usually bad," says Verne Gay at Newsday. Romney may have crossed that line when he interrupted the president with, "You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking." The line drew gasps from the audience. "You don't run over the president of the United States, whether that president's a Republican or whether that president is a Democrat," says Scarborough. "There are independent voters who believe that a president should be treated with deference because he is the commander-in-chief."