What the Debates Can and Can’t Do for Romney

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I don’t think Romney is going to win any of the debates, if by “win” we mean form a conventional wisdom that he beat Obama. At best, the media coverage will say that while he did fine he didn’t do enough to close the gap. A lot of people will be watching tomorrow night, though, and to the extent they form their own opinions rather than let themselves be influenced by press chatter, he has an opportunity to reach them. It’s not, I think, a “make or break moment” for Romney — that too is another notion spread by a press that is too negative about his chances — but it is an important one.

In recent days he has been taking a more aggressive line on taxes, hitting Obama for having raised them on the middle class and warning of more to come. That’s encouraging. On the other hand, I hope that Robert Costa is wrong about how much his advisers are concentrating on “humanizing” Romney. I’ve said my piece on that issue before, but it strikes me that we now have some evidence. The Republican convention was largely designed to humanize him, and it wasn’t very effective. The Democratic convention, on the other hand, was designed to push a series of arguments, and it appears to have been pretty effective. I still think that if people think Romney will make them and our country better off, they’ll start liking him — and not otherwise.

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