In short, [Romney’s] had a graduate school education in hadling the MSM, broadcast and print variety. And the managementof expectations experience will help dramatically as well when debate time comes around.
And here is the last of his old-media advantages.
Not since the last five minutes before the first Reagan debate against Walter Mondale in 1984 has a Republican audience sat down to watch a presidential debate believing they had the advantage. Some Republicans won some debates, as surely as George H.W. Bush did when Michael Dukakis stumbled on the question about the death penalty for his wife’s theoretical attacker, and as George W. Bush did in all three debates with Al Gore.
But they were either clear losses or close-run victories, and the latter were never expected, only gratefully celebrated.
Watching the second President Bush debate was perhaps the greatest trial GOP activists had to endure in the campaigns of 2000 and 2004. Th epresident is best in a conversational setting or in a set piece big speech, but not in the contrived settings of presidential debates. Though Bush “won” at least five of his six debates against Vice President Gore and Senator Kerry, each was a nerve-wracking experience for a Republican, and they would love nothing more thatn to have at least a strong competitor to bet on going into the fall of ’08 matches.
The widespread recognition that Mitt Romney far exceeded the field in tonight’s debate does not mean he will do the same again and again. Indeed, it makes him the likely target in the next few settings, and makes it more difficult to impress because of the expectations curve.
But first impressions matter a great deal and last a very long time. Romney didn’t have to win tonight, and neither did Rudy Giuliani.
But it is a very good thing to have such a debut. Tomorrow’s contributions via MittRomney.com will no doubt soar, as will the enthusiasm level throughout his organization and among the undecided.
I also want to note that while many are complaining –wholly correctly– about the partisan and sometimes ludicrously absurd questions from Chris Matthews, there is an upside to having him as host: This is what 90% of the MSM is, and while Jim Lehrer might be a bit more polished at hiding the bias, day in and day out this is what the GOP nominee will have to deal with. Far better to see our candidates dealing with what they will be dealing with than to have the NRA and the Right to Life League draft the questions. I would like to see more questions in future debates about issues of great concern to the center-right which aren’t even on the MSM’s radar, but having Matthews display the endless ideological grinding the nominee will get provided a useful glimpse of the MSM environment the GOP nominee will find when running against Hillary. That Romney shined when Matthews was acting as a stand-in for all of MSM made his clear win even more impressive.
One other observation: Where do I go for my royalty check on the question regarding Roe v. Wade? From my April 13, 2007 interview of Mayor Giuliani:
HH: But would it be a good day or a bad day for America if Roe V. Wade was reversed by the Roberts’ Court?
RG: Oh, I think that’s something the Court has to decide.
HH: All right.
RG: And I think that I would appoint strict constructionists as judges, I would not have a litmus test, there’d be a general test, a philosophical test, and that is are you going to interpret the Constitution as best you can based on what it means, not what you’d like it to mean? I can see conservative, strict constructionist judges coming to the conclusion that it should be overturned, or I could see some of them coming to the conclusion that it’s been the law for a substantial period of time, it is precedent, and applying stare decisis. So it’s not a litmus test.
When I heard the “good day/bad day” question put to all the candidates, the thought crossed my mind that it put Rudy in a box of having to answer the same question the same way, which he did. But it isn’t an answer that works for most Republicans.