by Charles D. Ellison
As exciting as the debate itself is the post-debate circus that takes place only moments after. It begins in earnest like the horse race: surrogates at the gates on the ready; pundits offering a head-spinning range of opinions; pollsters diving into it so fast that their initial surveys are blatantly unscientific.
Based on initial impressions, the news is that Republican nominee Mitt Romney won. A freshly baked Reuters poll showed the former Massachusetts Governor with a post-debate 51% favorability rating, his highest in months, suddenly slimming President Obama’s lead from 7 points to now 5.
Of course, this is what mainstream media heads wanted. That’s why it’s baked – there is a manufactured element to the whole affair. The race was beginning to look too easy. Time to make it hard. Add some sex, drugs and YouTube to it. Hey, Mr. DJ, spin and scratch that record, give us a hit we can rock our heads to.
This was to the chagrin and disappointment of committed President Obama supporters who had anticipated something of a Mike Tyson knockdown during the first few minutes in Round One of three debates. Democrats were melting down in earnest Wednesday night, haphazardly throwing their standard bearer under the talk show bus.
Regardless of how many wolf tickets were sold that night or how much you think either candidate pulled your leg with amazing feats of rhetoric, what really mattered was the optics. According to the experts, Romney killed on optics. Since the first televised debates, that’s all that matters. People don’t really listen to the entire debate – they occasionally look up from their debate party cocktail, follow the oohs-and-ahhhs of the crowd and wait for crowd-pleasing cues or “zingers.” Most wait to see what the experts have to say about it, and then form their own meager analysis from there.
But, even the President himself was out on the campaign trail only days before Denver warning us that his debate skills were “ok.” He wasn’t lying. During the 2008 Democratic primaries, we got the sense that the master orator was held back by a clear and distinguishable resentment of the political debate. It was as if he got the memo or saw the study that, empirically, debates really don’t matter in the final analysis. Most debates don’t push any real voting needles, the experts say. It’s all ground game in the end. Why do I have to do this?