The consensus around the political media sphere is that Mitt Romney won last night’s debate – if not on substance, then at least certainly on style points. But just how did Romney win? Persuasive rhetoric? Zingers? Better/more lies? A combination of all three? Yes, all the classic trappings of a winning debate strategy were included, but the cherry on top of the sundae was Romney’s repeated attempt to connect with moderates, independents, and undecided voters – a shift that seemed to momentarily confuse Barack Obama, perhaps leading to his lackluster performance as he realized attacks he’d prepared for August and September Romney were not going to work as well on “October Romney.”
Remember not two weeks ago, when the team of Romney advisors declared 2012 a “base election,” with the focus on turning out partisans, rather than persuading independents. Wait… Was that the shaking sound of an etch-a-sketch? Definitely. Last night, the classic “Massachusetts moderate,” Mitt Romney’s 1992-2006 persona, made several appearances on the debate stage, and often with great success. Taxes, regulation, big banks, education, even healthcare were treated with varying doses of moderation, past ultra-conservative promises and positions be damned! Romney pivoted to the center over and over again last night, which as BuzzFeed reported, was a deliberate strategic shift in an attempt to sway undecided voters:
Romney campaign policy director Lanhee Chen said the candidate’s performance was aimed at genuinely undecided independents. “My sense is that there are a lot of undecided voters out there who consider themselves independents,” Chen said, rejecting the theory that the political center has shrunk to irrelevance. “And so tonight our goal was to speak to all Americans, whether they were conservatives or independents, and I thought he did that pretty effectively.”
Here’s the catch – on two of the main issues Romney “pivoted to the center” on, his void of details tax plan and healthcare plan, he promised things that immediately set off fact checkers. Not giving the rich a tax cut? Actually, the Romney plan will give the richest 1% of Americans a tax break. Covering pre-existing conditions? Not so much, admitted Romney advisor Eric Fehnstrom after the debate’s conclusion.
Ultimately, we’ll see if this trend of tacking to the middle for Romney continues until November 6th. We’ll also see if his strategy of stretching the truth more than Obama (we swear… we’re being objective here!) continues to help his cause as an etch-a-sketch candidate, or whether it comes back to bite him in the butt. Romney’s gotten this far by being on both sides of almost every issue in his political career, so why not beat a dead horse until it leads you to the oval office? Worked for Obama with hope and change in 2008! Independents, stay tuned…