Alright, time for me to write about the first American presidential debate.
Of course, me being me, I am going to look at the first American presidential debate very differently than all the talking heads on tv are looking at it.
I will let everyone else debate on who won the debate and the excruciating dismantling of each word. Mostly because it was such a mosh pit of he said/she said partial/selective truths which was incredibly annoying and in the end I believe the everyday person had no clue if either told the truth.
What fascinates me is watching what I perceive as two significantly different debate strategies … not ideologies <although they are lurking their within their debate strategies>. And what may make my point of view different than others is:
- I don’t know diddly about politics or debate strategy so I have an unfiltered business <or sports> point of view on what I saw., and
- I truly believe that despite what we all feel about politics and politicians there are some very very smart people thinking about everything that is being done and said and that there is very rarely anything done without a purpose. Anything. Even a perceived disinterested participant.
Here is what I believe.
Both campaign teams know this is a 3 round boxing bout (with an under card bout). And I think both campaign/bout handlers know exactly what they are doing and the candidates are delivering on a 3 round strategy <no matter how the talking heads want to tear apart one as if it is the end all be all>.
Let me take on the biggest elephant in the room … for example, while we may not have seen the presidents ‘A game’ <I think he could have been sharper> I do believe he did exactly what he was asked to do by his Angelo Dundee.
Anyway, that is what I believe and here is what I saw.
To me I saw the Raging Bull (or ‘strong like bull’ if you prefer) strategy versus the Muhammad Ali strategy.
Attack, deflect and create doubt (with an eye to knockout) versus absorb, counterpunch and show unshakeable confidence (with an eye to knockout) strategy.
The Romney debate strategy is former and president is latter.
Both extremely viable strategies.
Both really smart strategic plans of action for the appropriate candidate.
Let me begin with the Romney Raging Bull strategy because it was executed flawlessly in the debate.
The Republican trainer <I apologize … I do not know the Raging Bull’s trainer> told him before he went into the ring “you need to win this round on punches” and “don’t come back to the corner with any punches or energy left. Leave it all out there.”
Now. Here is what truly made this strategy effective in the first debate. The trainer had Romney commit to a brilliant opening psychologically driven tactic.
Intellectually we all know it is an open debate of ideas.
However, psychologically, when the president is involved, there is an additional dynamic. Psychologically we expect our president to be treated with respect so no matter how you prepare yourself for it the first attack, the ‘he was wrong’ or ‘he wasn’t smart’ or ‘he didn’t prioritize correctly’, we bristle. We don’t like it and maybe even get a little angry at the attacker (unless you are Rush Limbaugh of course).
Now. We get over it in a debate, but the first punch hurts.
The republican trainer had Romney rip the band aid off fast and quick and early (opening). He punched the president right in the nose as soon as he stepped in the ring. Painful? You bet. But he got it out of the way and paved the way for a full 40 minutes or so of attack. Well thought out. Well done.
After that it was all about landing punches … didn’t have to be good solid punches but be relentless, don’t give him any space, just keep punching … because something will land and even if they don’t it doesn’t give him any openings to attack.
And attacking played to his strength. Romney is an excellent debater and excellent when the subject is one he has prepared for. His weakness is the unforeseen. He sometimes struggles <and gets flustered> when things aren’t going as planned. Therefore the Romney team avoided the semi-impossible task of guessing every question or possible punch and created the platform for him to win – attack. Just get out there and say what you want to say and what has been scripted.
Oh. They also told him … ‘on anything else? Do. Not. Say. It. <and don’t even think about saying it>.’
His trainer told him “I do not want you to absorb one punch. Not one.”
Romney was brilliant on this strategic objective. And I mean frickin’ brilliant. It didn’t matter whether the president counter punched with a real truth, a half truth, a partial truth or no truth because whatever the president said the response was “that’s not true” <or ‘you are wrong’>.
And when he actually decided to go on the attack again by counterpunching he simply selected whatever one aspect he had a script memorized on. He slid the punch and counterpunched on his terms. Slightly aggravating to the viewers because that meant he didn’t actually answer the questions but, to the Romney team, it was about punches. And after a while the president simply stopped punching because even he recognized he gained nothing as no matter what he said all people would remember is “that’s not true” every time he said something.
The other brilliant aspect was that it kept the dialogue on parts and not the sum of the parts <brilliant>.
Would he increase deficit? Of course not. Never.
Would he cut taxes for the rich? No.
Would he cut back on America’s future investment strategies? Silly, of course not.
Would he raise taxes on the middle class? No.
Would he roll back regulation? No <if it is smart>
Would he cut education? Never <they are our future>.
<p.s. – they cannot all be true and add up. It really is arithmetic>
Brilliant. Well played.
As a truth person I hated the strategy. As a strategy-to-win person I thought it was brilliant.
The trainer told Romney, after he told him he needs to win the round, remember, whatever happens in the fight itself when in doubt you counterpunch with the objective to create doubt in the president – his words, his actions, his knowledge of facts – so that people just aren’t sure about the overall current plan and leader (of course the ultimate hope is the president may even show a crack of doubt or regret at some point for some past decision when I assume Romney would have pounced – rightfully so).
Stay on mission. Whatever you do stay on script and create doubt on whatever he says.
I am not sure that last objective was achieved but that’s not the point. It was the strategic vision. And I think whoever (the Romney Raging Bull trainer) designed the strategy deserves a cocktail.
The risk is partially energy (like a real boxing match) but the debates are so spread out (although it does mandate a high level of energy every round) so I believe it is really about rhythm. You only have so many punches. The risk is he slips into some rhythm that can be read before the punch comes or he slightly revises the punch <going slightly off the practiced script> and leaves a big opening. Or he simply runs out of punches and the champ is still standing and has some whoopass punches left. But Romney has a lot more punches he can throw than the president can. Any challenger in a tough economy does. In addition he has the benefit of selective hindsight … punching past actions without having to defend his own actions. And when an economy is doing poorly the challenger has a simplified attack stance as he punches … no need to explain the case of what is wrong … everyone knows <but it is an easy punch to throw if you are suddenly backpedaling>. All Romney has to say is: “I can do this job better than that.” Look. It is always easier to look back and say “stupid, why did you do that?” when no one knows what you would have done in that time and place. But that’s how the bout is fought. Raging bull won a lot of matches. He can win.
- The proof that my theory may be right?
Romney is a bottom line business guy through and through. I would probably love him running a troubled business. I do not doubt for one minute he is a compassionate man but all business leaders have a switch. A switch where it ain’t personal … it is business. And you have to do that sometimes <as a business person>. I imagine he is ruthlessly effective at dissecting past actions of others, revise and improve moving forward. And I tend to believe his business credentials show that this strategy is a mirror reflection of what takes place in a boardroom. What makes him appealing is that when cornered he really doesn’t know how to play politics … he is a business guy. He knows people are involved, and he cares about them, but ultimately he is about making the right business decision and believes the happiness of people will follow. This strategy is perfect for him.
Moving on to the president.
The Muhammad Ali strategy. To me this was the most interesting.
Because while I believe the raging bull strategy was very easy for Romney to implement I believe the Muhammad Ali strategy is a little more difficult for the president to implement.
I believe the democrat Angelo Dundee told the president “remember champ, this is a 3 round bout, not one, and you are the champ, he cannot knock you out in this round, so this round you absorb every punch he’s got. Let him give you the best he has. You will probably lose this round. That said … I only want you to come back at him if, and only if, you think you can put him down on the mat. Other than that, suck it up, absorb what he’s got and just give enough counterpunches to see what else he’s got.”
Well. The president did what he was asked.
Flawlessly if not painfully. He was pushed on the ropes and took a battering.
He used counterpunches to show he was unshakeable in his beliefs on his plan. He used counterpunches to show aspects of his vision. And, yes, there were some openings (albeit not many because frankly the relentless attack was pretty relentless). But if the criteria were “only if you can put him down” then he did what his trainer told him to do.
Let me give a hypothetical, but realistic, example.
The Democrat team is in the bout strategy room and someone says “okay champ, when you get an opening you swing from the hips with the 47% punch and rock him.”
Everyone says ‘hell yeah.’
The republican Angelo Dundee, sitting in the corner with a twisted sweaty towel, clears his throat and growls … “do we know his counter punch if he slips it? … think about this … the other guy says ‘I am glad you brought that up Mr. president because I owe America an apology … especially the 47% but 100% of America. I was wrong to say that and I apologize. I am for 100% of America, have been, and always will be. Please accept my apology’ … all said looking directly at the camera and 67 million people” <plus youtube & media the next day> … Angelo takes a deep breath and then says … “Champ, you can’t ask him if he was flip flopping or changing his mind or even lying … he just apologized to 67 million watchers and 250 million Americans. That punch misses.”
Silence in the room as they think.
(He lets the room ponder that for maybe 30 seconds as he sips some water … clears his throat and turns directly to the president)
“Champ, you can throw that punch if you want, but you need to get your hands up quick to protect your jaw because you know for sure that immediately after he has looked directly at the camera and apologized he is going to turn to you and look directly at you, in front of 67 million people, and ask you ‘is there anything you would like to apologize to America for?’”
He doesn’t even let that one sit in the room but immediately reminds the entire room “in round one the champ only attacks with a punch that will put him on the mat. Let’s move on.”
Someone give the republican Angelo a raise.
I do not think this was easy for the president. And while some viewers thought he was disinterested or making notes I actually think he was writing something like “remember to take Angelo out to the woodshed, if Michelle doesn’t, and kick his ass for making me do this.” Because while I believe this is a great strategy for a champ it is not an easy one for someone who wants to fight.
Which is why I believe the president was at his best in the closing comments.
He basically got to finally come off the ropes after being battered for 40 minutes and say “I took the best he has, I am bloodied but still standing here, I am unshaken and confident that my plan is the best for America and its people.”
He got to say to Romney “if that is the best you got you, you didn’t hurt me <and you are screwed and should be worried because I am not going away>.”
I am not sure the president can do this strategy, for personal pride reasons, for one more round and wait for the third to finally come out swinging. Well he could, and maybe should, because strategically it is quite possible <although he does need to find some openings in round two to score some solid points> but I think personally this strategy is very difficult for him to take. But if his Angelo Dundee could convince him … I would. Muhammad Ali was one of the best strategist and counter punchers of all time. He waited. And waited. And watched. And waited more. And by taking the best shots and still be standing he gained confidence, he gained some respect, and then he used all he learned and won.
I think the Democrat Angelo Dundee is going to give a different strategy to Biden … I think he is gonna tell him “go out and kick the young whipper snapper’s ass and feel free and be a jerk about it. Win us the old white folk.” But that is a different post.
The risk here? You can’t deliver the knockout punch in the last round. It’s all or nothin’ in the 3rd round and by this time all of America that will ever even think about voting is watching.
67 million will look like frickin’ peanuts by this debate.
And he has to win by TKO or KO. You are too far behind in points to simply win on points. You need to put him on the mat a couple of times or out for good. It puts a lot of pressure on the champ. But those are the moments champions are defined. Mohammed Ali won a lot of bouts this way. But he did lose some matches. The president can lose.
- The proof my theory may be right? Well. The democrat strategy was exactly the same during the republican primaries. People were jumping up and down saying “why aren’t the democrats defending themselves?!?” as the republicans used the president and the administration’s plan of action as a punching bag. The administration just absorbed the punches and unshakabley kept on keeping on. And then they came out swinging. Time in and time out by biding their time they got the ammunition they have needed for the counterpunch uppercuts. They have used this strategy before.
In addition … the media is actually throwing the punches for him as he rests in the corner for the next round. All the talking bobbleheads are sitting around talking about all the things he could have punched Romney with. Gosh. Romney won the round on punches but the announcers are all talking about the quality of the punches and punches the President could have taken. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm … kinda smart that the president didn’t have to bring them up.
Someone knows their shit in the democrat camp.
If I am right, I actually believe these strategies are a reflection of the choice America has and they were outlined pretty clearly in the debate:
- Romney. Aggressively attack the short term issues and deflect the long term (not ignore it but the priority is “create jobs now”).
Private, private, private <with some delegation to states>. Now. I don’t really believe he believes this but this is the message. But he is certainly a believer in unfettered <or minimally fettered> capitalism. Let me use healthcare as an example because it is such a lightning rod.
When people hear him talk the people are confusing state rights and his business acumen. In his heart he wants 50 small businesses managing America. It is irrelevant they are called ‘states’ he just believes that businesses generate effective bottom line and effective cost-efficient solutions. That may be an extreme generalization but that is the core of his belief.
- Obama. Absorb the best punches (issues) we are given and create an unshakable future (this doesn’t suggest ignoring immediate job creation but the priority is a solid foundation for the future).
Balance, balance, balance. People don’t like to hear it. Romney message is a lot easier to grasp. The president pounds away at selective governmental assistance and encouragement of private sector innovation. It ain’t sexy and it ain’t just talking about jobs. The president, using business acumen as an example with regard to healthcare, suggests Massachusetts was a new product test market which can now be rolled out nationally. From a business perspective the president philosophically is actually pretty close to a national franchise business model.
Please note that both are viable approaches with pluses and minuses on each. But do not be fooled into believing one system is better than the other. They are simply systems. It is always the people who manage the systems over the long term (not just a year or 4) that make or break either of those business models.
That’s my thinking.
Oh. And who really wins if I am right? The media and whoever covers the third debate. Viewership will continue to increase as the Obama strategy is to guide everyone to the last round of the bout. Especially if the second round goes the way I think it will <a purposeful draw>.
And, actually, I imagine the candidates do also. In a very close race the last debate becomes the make or break moment.
I am sure a lot of people do not want to agree with what I just wrote but, remember, a lot of these yahoos have Harvard and Princeton and a whole bunch of high falutin’ degrees. They may not be in touch with what happens around the average American kitchen table but that doesn’t make them dumb. They know their shit.
And rarely is something happening that they haven’t planned … they just don’t tell you their plan <that is the Bill Belechik acumen I believe>.
I look forward to rounds two and three … and the undercard also.