Romney’s Debate To-Do List
He needs to explain not only what’s wrong, but what he will do to fix it.

Decorating the debate stage in Denver


Time is running out for the Romney campaign. With polls suggesting that the president is opening up a lead in key battleground states, tonight’s debate has become critical to Mitt Romney’s hopes for winning the presidency. The narrative of the race has become one of the American people liking President Obama, his wife, and his family, not blaming him for the impotent economic recovery, and trusting him more than his Republican challenger to fix the problems facing us. The president’s team has also successfully cast Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy who pays less in taxes than middle-class families.

Romney must shatter these perceptions. Here are the five things he needs to do to win this week’s debate, recast the race, and begin to get the momentum necessary to capture the Electoral College on November 6.

1. Point to the bad economy, but don’t dwell on it. Instead, sell your own plan.

Romney will not win this first debate by simply reciting the facts and figures on how bad the economy is and blaming the president for it. Granted the facts are horrible: Unemployment has remained above 8 percent for Obama’s entire term, and it was over 9 percent for all of 2010 and much of 2009 and 2011. Under this president, people aren’t just losing their jobs; they’re losing their place in the work force altogether. At 63.5 percent, labor-force participation is at its lowest level since 1981, the year Ronald Reagan took over from Jimmy Carter. The shrinking workforce is not a coincidence; it is an outcome of President Obama’s failed and misguided policies like the “stimulus” and Dodd-Frank. Moreover, the president’s health-care-reform law, while creating a trillion-dollar new entitlement program, has failed to contain prices or reduce the uninsured population; the cost of employer-sponsored insurance plans went up 4.6 percent last year, and the number of uninsured Americans climbed 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2012.

But voters want to know more from Governor Romney. They want to know, “How will you make things better for me and my family?” Romney needs to describe his own plan with specificity on how he will help the private sector create jobs, and then rightly criticize the president for not having a plan. Make the president defend more stimulus. As they say in the South, that dog won’t hunt.

Zinger moment: “Mr. President, your plan to strengthen the economy hasn’t worked in the last four years. Why should we believe it will work in the next four?”

2. Convince voters that it is okay to fire the president.

Many swing voters who went for Barack Obama in 2008 are not angry with him; they are disappointed.

Before Obama’s inauguration, Americans were hopeful that this new president would fulfill his lofty campaign rhetoric and bring nonpartisan solutions to the nation’s biggest problems. Instead, the Obama administration has been the most partisan in memory.

This is a point requiring finesse. The structure of Romney’s argument should be something like this: “We all wanted your plan for ‘hope and change’ to be successful, but it hasn’t been, and although you seem like a pretty cool guy, we regrettably need to make a change to someone who has the skill set and experience to turn this country around. No hard feelings.” The decision must be presented as one made not out of anger, but out of necessity.

Zinger moment: “Mr. President, America cannot afford to give you another chance. What you’ve tried hasn’t worked, and we need to try something new. Neither hope nor change will pay the rent or put food on the table. America’s families cannot hang on for another four years.”

3. Leave no doubt that this election is about our children and grandchildren.

The Obama campaign has done a good job of positioning the president on the side of seniors, Hispanics, and middle-class families. David Axelrod and David Plouffe know that getting to 270 electoral votes is not just about winning states, but about winning constituencies. The big constituency left open for Romney is our children and grandchildren. But they can’t vote, you say? While it is true that many of them cannot vote yet, their parents and grandparents can, and together they constitute the vast majority of the electorate. As important as the issue of jobs and the economy is, equally important is the issue of trillion-dollar deficits and a skyrocketing $16 trillion national debt. Not only is this the issue that will determine whether or not America continues to be the land of unending opportunity, but it is an issue on which the president has no defense. The facts are compelling.