Debate Day Preview and Prediction

Today is the day for the second Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, so I thought I'd write a brief post on the state of things and make a few predictions.

The polls are moving. That last word is the operative one. Polls, especially in this election cycle, are not particularly helpful in determining the true state of things, given the wild discrepancies between turnout models used by the polling organizations. Many are still oversampling Democrats in ridiculous numbers, and even then they show President Obama losing to Mitt Romney. The important thing to notice about the polls is that they are moving. Romney has strong momentum right now, and it is momentum that, barring some incredible and uncharacteristic gaffe, will not be slowing any time soon. That is because, as Hugh Hewitt wisely says, Romney is not enjoying a "bounce." Rather, the electorate is settling.

For many Americans, the first debate was all they needed. They saw a confident, articulate, serious candidate for President in Mitt Romney, and their "fears" were all but alleviated. The real question is whether Obama can turn things around tonight.

The answer is no.

President Obama's deepest problem is that he has no core message. No plans (at least that he's shared with anyone) for the next four years. Seriously, have you heard him answer this question from anyone in the course of this entire campaign? "Mr. President, what is it you plan to do if you are given another four years?" All he has are incredibly stale talking points about "investing" in various pet projects (e.g., "green" energy, "making college affordable," etc.) and making the rich "pay a little bit more." In other words, more of the same. So just keep this in mind: when you hear Obama say the word "invest," you need to translate that to its real meaning, "I want to spend lots and lots and lots of money we don't have." And people are very concerned about debt and spending. This is not a winning message for Obama. Americans are very cynical (or should be) when they hear the Six Trillion Dollar Man talk about "reducing the deficit." Look for Obama to appear very concerned about the deficit tonight, as though he is not the person solely responsible for Trillion Dollar deficits four years running.

Without a coherent core message, there is no way for Obama to provide any kind of cogent, sustained argument tonight. What you will see is a man flailing about, throwing talking points at the wall trying to get one to stick. People will be particularly attuned to the style tonight, and a flailing man cannot help but appear desperate, irritable, and perhaps even angry.

Obama has another problem, and one that is insufficiently appreciated by people on the Right. Mitt Romney has pleasantly become a very, very, very good candidate for the office he seeks. He simply exudes competence and confidence. He speaks articulately and his message has great clarity. He is unflappable. He is the antithesis of angry. And more than simply providing the sort of "optics" of being a good Presidential candidate, he actually is a good candidate for the office. This is a man with impeccable executive experience. He has been nothing but a success in his career, both running a stellar investment firm and running the Olympic Games. One does not imagine a President Romney abdicating his responsibilities with regard to, say, securing our State Department employees overseas or pathetically telling tall tales about terrorist attacks, even at the funeral service for an assassinated Ambassador. Romney is a man who knows how to pick employees, and I suspect his personnel decisions will be a breath of fresh air compared to, say, the laughingstock that Ambassador Susan Rice has become. The confidence and competence Romney exudes is not something Obama can easily overcome.

That is currently the state of things, and so I will make my not-so-modest prediction:

With a steady (though not necessarily flashy) performance in the debate, Mitt Romney wraps up the election tonight. Obama consistently has his 47% in the polls, and that will not improve. The rest will settle in to vote for Romney, and my previous prediction of a popular vote tally of 53% Romney, 47% Obama, making it an overwhelming Electoral College victory, will come to pass.

Brian Mattson