Billionaire Donald Trump sent word to all major news agencies yesterday that he had a "very, very big news about POTUS [President of the United States], news that borders on gigantic", to swing the election in Mitt Romney's favour.
But at this stage Mitt Romney does not need any help from Donald “You are fired!” Trump to win. He can carry the ball past the goal line on his own. Who would have thought a month ago that the candidate once ridiculed by the press as “the second-place front-runner” would be in a dead-heat with the incumbent president?
The conventional wisdom is that one debate does not win an election. But history has proven it wrong several times. A single visual hue has changed the dynamism of a whole political campaign.
During the first ever town-hall style three-way presidential debate, on October 15 1992, between president George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot just two and a half weeks before the election, the president glanced down to check his wristwatch at one point, as if he could not wait for the folly to end. He also seemed to lose focus on a question from the audience. The query was how the national debt had personally affected each candidate. While president Bush went all over the page and dug deep for an answer, when it came to his turn Clinton walked up to the questioner, looked straight into her eyes and asked, “Tell me how it’s affected you again.” That simple gesture was freighted with a deeper meaning – empathy. That little pivotal moment represented the breakaway point for governor Clinton, who went on to win the race in the final furlong.
For the first of the three presidential debates this time around, Mitt Romney went in as the underdog, both as a candidate and as a debater. He was up against a tremendously intelligent and highly articulate incumbent who, at that juncture, was ahead by several points in all national polls. From the get-go, Romney came out at full throttle, moving ahead from the backstretch to the top as he surged towards the finish line. President Obama, on the other hand, seemed to have lost his way at the gate. From that point on, the momentum of the presidential race shifted in favour of the challenger. Gone was the old second-place front-runner who could not seem to muster enough support to win the earlier primaries. The new Romney, with his new-found confidence and poise, stepped up his challenge that Americans make “the Choice”. And, as polls now indicate, more Americans are listening, and he is not yet done with his opinion-turning endeavour.
To make up for his lacklustre performance in the first debate, Obama was back his articulate policy wonk and debater self in the second and third debates. But despite his victories in the last two showdowns, Obama could no longer cast any doubt on Romney’s electability, nor could he expunge Romney’s likeability.
In the last debate, on foreign policy on Tuesday, everybody expected the president to win. Every sitting president has the advantage of the hands-on grasp of these issues that his post gives him. True to form, Obama did not disappoint his supporters. All the post-debate snap polls said the president had won hands down. But surprisingly, in his defeat, Romney still managed to triumph on one critical point. He showed the American public that he was not a crazed man who cannot be trusted with the “nuclear button”, overriding the private doubts of many voters. The Romney we saw was reasonable, tempered, pragmatic and composed. Another box checked for a plausible president.
The US public in general cares very little about foreign policy – only 10 per cent of the population says they do. But foreign policy is directly associated with leadership. And on that count Romney has shown the public he possesses that quality. He repeated the line he has stated on various campaign stops, that on Day 1 of his presidency, he would declare China a “currency manipulator”. He also said he would reverse Obama’s policy of throwing America’s closest ally in the Middle East – Israel – “under the bus”. His “you cannot kill your way out of this mess” attack on President Obama’s governance resonated well with the public, despite the fact that America has done just that under just about every previous administration and likely every one to come. Romney did not miss a beat in tying foreign policy to the No 1 domestic issue on every voter’s mind – the economy.
In the final two weeks of the campaign as the race tightens, each candidates will spend more than $100 million on TV ads in a bid to gain votes in “swing” states, which have grown in number from six to nine. Romney has the backing of the super PACs (Political Action Committees), with deep pockets and willing hands to write cheques. This week Romney’s PACS will spend $55 million, up from the $40 million of two weeks ago. Obama will be spending less – $33 million this week compared to $25 million a fortnight ago – but the president is repeating his campaign stops in states previously considered shoo-ins, but are now maybes. He is also trying to woo young and first-time voters by appearing on MTV.
During the last days of the campaign, Romney has a much easier challenge in delivering his message. His reputation as a “turnaround kid” for having turned a $379-million deficit for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Committee into a $100-million surplus (never mind that there are many who said Romney exaggerated the size of the deficit) sits well with voters who feel that they are worse off financially today than four years ago. He will stress his qualifications in a bid to forge a reputation as the man who can bring the two quarrelling political parties together. The Romney campaign will cast the GOP nominee as a pragmatic problem-solver who knows just how to solve Americans’ woes because he has done it before, elsewhere. He will say that the president after four years has shown the country that he has run out of ideas, as well as excuses.
Obama’s message to the people is more complicated, and that does not bode well for his last-minute pitch. He needs to convince voters that the Romney they see is not the Romney they will get in the White House. He must also make his accusation stick that Romney is wearing a centrist mask when in fact his real face is much more conservative than his campaign rhetoric has let on.
It’s an uphill battle for Obama, in a nation where viewing figures for the last presidential debate dropped from 59.2 million to 56.5 million because it coincided with Monday night football and Game 7 of baseball’s National League championship series. Fortunately, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” has finished its season.