Ten Simple Things Mitt Should Do or Say During the Debates
If you haven't noticed, the election is slipping away from Mitt. Given the numbers out there -- unemployment, deficit, gas prices, and poverty -- that is amazing. Simply stated, if a Republican can't win this election, he or she can't win any presidential election. Although it's probably too late, if Mitt has any chance to win, he needs to say or do these 10 simple things during the debates.
1. A Tagline
Every (winning) campaign needs a good tagline (whether official or informal). For Reagan, it was "where's the beef?" For Clinton it was "it's the economy, stupid." Here perhaps this works: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." It's not only catchy and well-known, but it also sends a strong psychological message: namely, we -- the voters -- won't be duped again. Nobody likes to be suckered or feel dumb, and this tagline reinforces to people that they have been duped by Obama's first term and won't be duped again. Another tagline might be "It's President Obama's track record, stupid."
2. Dumb Down the Deficit (and Make It Real)
Say something like this. "When it comes to the budget, the president throws around large numbers to confuse us all. Just last year the deficit grew another two trillion dollars, and our national debt is now over $16 trillion. That's more than $50,000 for every American, more than $200,000 for a family of four. Those numbers are real. The president has effectively saddled every American with a $200,000 mortgage. Now he will blame George W. Bush and his predecessors, but if he's re-elected, the deficit will grow to well over $20 trillion in the next four years and likely closer to $25 trillion.
"Since talking about trillions is hard to comprehend, let's put this in simple terms. If you take away 8 zeros from the budget and deficit numbers and put them in terms of a typical American family's budget, here is what it would like:
- Family's Annual Income: $21,700
- Money the family spent: $38,200
- New debt on the family credit card: $16,500
- Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
- Total proposed budget cuts: $385
"So under the president, we are spending almost twice as much as we earn, running up the credit card, and when we sit around the table to discuss budget cuts, all we can come up with is $385! That's his plan to balance the budget?! If re-elected, the president will do in eight short years what 42 other presidents couldn't do in over 200 years: triple the deficit and bankrupt us. The American people are on notice and won't allow it. I won't allow it if elected president. It must stop. Now."
3. Use a Prop (Yes, a Prop)
When the subject of ObamaCare comes up, it is likely that either the president or the moderator will say something like this: "Well, I don't know how Governor Romney can criticize ObamaCare when we modeled our plan on his Massachusetts plan." In response, Mitt should pull out the ObamaCare bill - all 2,074 pages of it -- and throw it on the podium (or wave it around). Next, he pulls out his Massachusetts plan, which is just 70 pages, and places it next to Obama's bill and says: "Really, Mr. President -- you say with a straight face that this [holding Obama's 2,074 pages] is the same as this [holding his 70-page bill]? I don't think so, and the American people know better."
If he wants, Romney can then use this as a stepping stone to specifics -- e.g., "Moreover, we passed Romneycare in Massachusetts only after balancing the budget; you've come nowhere close to balancing the budget. We raised no new taxes to pay for it in Massachusetts; in contrast, the cost of ObamaCare is so large as to be unknown. We also passed Romneycare with broad bipartisan support -- because I know how to work with the other side of the aisle -- while you had no bipartisan support and stuffed the bill down America's throat with midnight roll calls. So, Mr. President, don't dupe the American people by saying your bill [holding it up] is the same as this [holding up his 70 pages]. It isn't, and you know it. Don't insult the American people."
4. Stick with the Numbers
Mitt says: "Whatever statistic you use to judge the economy, they are all worse than when the president started. Unemployment is up, way up, and it's even higher than the reported number because so many Americans have simply given up under President Obama. Think about that: they've given up. Given up hope. Gas prices are up. The deficit is up. Way up. Over $16 trillion. Everything is up. Even poverty -- yes, poverty -- is approaching a 50-year high under President Obama. The only thing that has gone down the past four years is the president's golf score. He has played more golf than any other president. So at least one statistic has gone down these past four years."
5. Attack "Hope" and "Change" and "Vision"
Mitt says: "In 2008 -- and still today -- the president talks elegantly about 'hope' and 'change' and 'vision' -- all big, nice, flowery words to make us feel better. But guess what: this isn't an Oprah show. We haven't done any better as a country the past four years. This election isn't about intentions; it's about -- or should be about -- results. Listen: the 'hope' and 'change' I plan to bring to this country -- to all 100% of Americans -- is a better economy. In a word, it's about jobs. The 'hope' and 'change' I will offer the black child, the Latino child, and all children in our country is to put their mommies and daddies back to work. That is hope and change they can believe in. That is the role model I plan to be as your next president."
6. Compare Track Records
"Rather than discuss his own track record -- his doubling the deficit in just four years -- the president deflects by trying to focus on my track record. I welcome that. As the Governor of Massachusetts, I balanced the budget every year. I was a Republican in a very Democratic state, but I figured out how to work with all my Democratic colleagues in the house and senate in Massachusetts. I grew our economy. Our president hasn't done any of those things. And before becoming a politician, I actually ran something. Successfully. I took over and led the 2002 Olympics, which were a complete success. I ran businesses. And yes, Mr. President, in doing so, I sometimes had to make cuts for the greater good. Yes, I had to make hard choices. Yes, I had to prioritize. Yes, I even had to say 'no' sometimes, and I could not give all the people what they wanted all the time. It's like a doctor cutting out a cancer to save the healthy cells. Where I come from, that's called 'leadership.' Yet you have cut little, if anything, in four years. Instead, you have ballooned our spending. Enough. It's time to turn in the country's credit card."
7. Kill Obama with Kindness
Whether in public or during the debates, be the cool voice of reason, which here means something like: "Let me be clear. President Obama is not a zealot or a socialist or some evil figure as some try to make him about to be. Just as I am not a caricature, neither is he. He is a good, well-intentioned man, but also misguided. I want to be your president not because I dislike President Obama, but rather because I dislike his policies, which four years of evidence now show has killed our economy, our jobs, and perhaps most important, our morale and resolve as a country. Vote for me not because you dislike President Obama, but rather vote for me becaue you dislike his policies and record, and better yet, because you like my vision and track record of results."
8. Tax Returns & Obama's School Records
If the president (or moderator) chides or challenges Mitt on not releasing his tax returns, Mitt should say: "For our president to talk about the release of personal records reflects hypocrisy at its worst. This coming from the president who has released fewer records than any modern American president. This from a president who still refuses to release his school records. Every other president has done so, so why won't you, Mr. President? What are you hiding?
9. The 47% Problem
Almost certainly this will come up. Mitt needs to spin it as a positive: "Listen: the president has tried to make much hay out of the comments. All I was saying -- perhaps inartfully -- is that when 47% of the country pays no income taxes -- many because they have no jobs -- that's a problem for all 100% of Americans. I am a Republican, but guess what: let me say this clearly: we need more than just 53% of Americans to pay federal income tax every April 15. If not, then all 100% of us are in trouble."
10. Some other things Mitt should say, somehow, some way
- "The president has no real plan. It's smoke and mirrors, and he's trying to ham-and-egg things to get over the November 6 finish line."
- "Talk is cheap. Trillion-dollar deficits aren't."
- "Look at the numbers -- unemployment, gas, the deficits. They don't lie."
- "On June 14, at a community college in Cleveland, the president said that in this election, voters will 'render a verdict on the debate over how to grow the economy, how to create good jobs, how to pay down our deficit.' He's done none of that. He's made each of those things worse. I agree with the president: the election should be about the economy, and if it is, he should join the ranks of the unemployed."
- "And guess what -- where I come from, whom you keep company with actually matters. If you buddy up with draft-dodgers and domestic terrorists and sit in a church pew that spews hate for 20 years, that means something."
If these items seem obvious, guess what: that's the point. If you like theory, there are two related themes in play here: jujitsu and KISS. Jujitsu, as you likely know, is a martial art that essentially uses your opponent's strength against him. A concrete example here is turning Obama's hipness and cool rhetoric against him. The other concept is KISS, which of course stands for "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Remember Clinton winning in 1992 with the simple mantra "It's the economy, stupid." Applied here, the mantra should be, "It's President Obama's track record, stupid."
Gerald Santovsky is the pen name of a writer in flyover country.