What Will Wednesday Look Like?
Anticipating the first night out.

The debate stage rises in Denver.


A Mitt Romney who shows Americans he understands and cares about them, warts and all.

 Henry Olsen is a vice president of the American Enterprise Institute.

Mitt Romney needs to remember that demeanor counts. In 2000, Gore blew his first debate by sighing during Bush’s answers. Four years later, Bush blew his first debate by scowling during Kerry’s answers. People didn’t remember what they said as much as how they looked and sounded. Romney has to come across as poised and confident.


Romney may not be a stand-up comic but he does need to use humor. Saul Alinsky put it best: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.” That’s especially true with the president, who doesn’t react well to humorous criticism. (That’s why he and his staff have long been obsessed with Rush Limbaugh.)

Romney can score by turning the president’s own words against him. A common denominator of memorably effective debate moments is that one candidate was able to exploit something that his opponent had said: Reagan saying “There you go again” to Carter (1980), Mondale using “There you go again” against Reagan (1984), and Bentsen telling Quayle, “You’re no Jack Kennedy” (1988).

On substance, one thing is obvious but bears repeating: Romney has to draw attention to troubling economic indicators, such as the lowest labor-force-participation rate in three decades. He could sum it up by saying: “The lights are blinking red, and the president thinks it’s a Christmas tree.”

The health-care law will come up. One vulnerability is its sheer complexity. Romney could challenge the president to explain how the payments board would work, and why it would not result in rationing.

Romney can challenge the president on events in the Middle East, asking why embassy security was so weak and why the administration initially gave a misleading account of what happened in Libya.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

On Wednesday I want to see the Yanks win the American League East.

As for the debate, I believe both men have a better chance of losing voters with a gaffe than they do of winning new converts in a positive sense.

At the end of the day, though, it will come down to real-world fundamentals, not debate tactics.

— Pollster Scott Rasmussen is author of The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt.

I am hoping that it will become a debate about big ideas, about what the role of government in society is, about what self-government and constitutionalism really mean. I am hoping that President Obama reveals himself to be a stiff elitist, one who speaks with contempt to anyone who disagrees with him. I am hoping that Governor Romney will be plain-speaking, forthright, and honorable, and not without a sense of humor.

— Peter Schramm is executive director of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.

Mitt Romney must hold the president accountable for the legion of broken promises. To Obama’s expected “I inherited a terrible economy,” Romney should respond, “Yes, but you made it worse after promising to make it better.” And Romney must also demonstrate how four more years of Obama will put America into a domestic- and foreign-policy death spiral from which we are unlikely to recover in time for any of us now living to witness it, if, in fact, it ever occurs.

— Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor.

Mitt Romney needs to get on the offensive on two crucial issues: Obamacare and religious liberty. The spin on both of these issues has been appalling, and he needs to take control to tell voters what is at stake.

There is a reason that religious freedom is the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights. Our freedom to follow our religious beliefs is the basis of who we are as a country, and it is seriously threatened by the Obamacare anti-conscience mandate. And Obamacare would undermine the very relationship between government and a free people — making us subjects to a government that literally would have control over life-and-death decisions.

Romney needs to make this clear because there is no better way to explain to the voters what’s at stake in this election.

— Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute and co-author of ObamaCare Is Wrong for America.