Monday, October 1, 2012

What Mitt Romney REALLY needs to do in the debates

We’re two days from the first Romney/Obama debate, and the media is buzzing with advice for the Republican nominee: “provide specifics about a Romney presidency.” (Erin McPike, RealClearPolitics), “offer a tough critique of Obama's record, foreign and domestic, especially spending, taxes and Obamacare.” (Ralph Reed, quoted in The New York Times), “Move to clarity in drawing the contrast between the two.” (Newt Gingrich on Face the Nation. Although I'm not sure why Newt thinks that the guy who trounced him in the primaries needs his advice.)

I respectfully disagree with these esteemed commentators. What wins debates is not specifics, critiques, or contrasts. What wins debates is one-liners.

Consider the 2010 special election here in Massachusetts. Scott Brown got a much needed boost in his bid to succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate with his famous retort, “It's not the Kennedys' seat, and it's not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat.”

Walter Mondale derailed Gary Hart’s 1984 White House bid by quoting a popular television commercial, “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, ‘Where’s the beef?’” (Of course, Gary Hart derailed his 1988 White House bid without any help from his opponents.)

One-liners are particularly effective in neutralizing criticism. The “age issue” in the 1984 general election (Reagan was 73) completely went away when he promised, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

So Mitt: be prepared. The one-liners are what will be played endlessly on the news the next day. So if, on Wednesday, you haven’t got some ready to defuse a) Romneycare, b) the 47%, and c) your tax rate, you should look for new writers on Thursday.

P.S. Mitt, If you want a copy of my resume you can contact me through my publisher.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on

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