What Obama Doesn’t Get About Debates

He's eloquent and likable -- but he needs to learn a few things to win his next match with Romney.

(The Root) — It’s crunch time for President Barack Obama’s campaign — and his presidency. One more bad debate on Tuesday night and he’ll have done serious damage to his 2012 re-election prospects and possibly his presidential legacy.

As a result of his listless performance in the first debate against opponent Mitt Romney, the president is now locked in a statistical dead heat — 48 to 46 percent — in the Gallup daily tracking poll, and his 51 to 46 percent lead in Sunday’s PPP Poll in the crucial swing state of Ohio is all that’s left of the firewall between Obama and his challenger.


Because Obama didn’t just lose in that first debate; as the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan writes, “he forfeited it.” He’ll almost certainly show up to the second debate at Hofstra University better rested and better prepared — and the town hall-style format probably suits him better than the dueling-podium format — but unless Obama throws some major tweaks into his debate style, he risks another lackluster performance.

Here’s what he needs to do:

Be Energetic, Not Aggressive

There’s been a lot of chatter about whether Obama can afford to get in Romney’s face and risk being perceived as an angry black man. But you don’t even need that analysis, because Obama doesn’t need to be aggressive. The first time the president asked the first lady out, he wasn’t aggressive; he just took Chris Rock’s advice and made eye contact, put some bass in his voice and let her know what he was about. So if the debate is a date with voters, that’s what he should be doing now.

Stop Fact-Checking Romney

On Sunday, strategist Donna Brazile said what should have been obvious to Team Obama all along: “Stop trying to fact-check” Romney.

Romney’s flip-flopped every major issue — health care, abortion, stimulus, bailouts and immigration — but anyone who cares already knows this. So when Obama stands onstage offering detailed rebuttals to Romney’s ever-evolving policy positions, he’s wasting his own time. Calling Romney out is the pundits’ job — his job is making the case for his own re-election, not to be a one-man truth squad.