Romney’s Debate Play: Silent Obama

Photograph by Steve Helber/AP Photo

Mitt Romney stands behind a banner as he waits to be introduced during a rally at Tidewater Community college in Chesapeake, Va., on Oct. 17, 2012.

Mitt Romney is playing his first debate with President Barack Obama to its fullest advantage — airing an ad that portrays the Republican nominee as the answer to gridlock in Washington, and portraying Obama as silent on the question.

“The reason I’m in this race is there are people really hurting today in this country,” Romney is shown saying in their  debate in Denver. “Republicans and Democrats both love America, but we need to have leadership, leadership in America that will actually bring people together… I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.”

The president is wordless, his head turning back and forth, with a timid smile, as if he had nothing to say about this in the first debate between the two candidates on Oct. 3 when they were asked what they would do about the partisan gridlock in Washington.

Obama did have something to say about it, after Romney answered the question about what he’d do as president: “I will sit on Day One,” Romney said, “actually, the day after I get elected — I’ll sit down with leaders — the Democratic leaders, as well as Republican leaders, and continue — as we did in my state — we met every Monday for a couple hours, talked about the issues and the challenges in the — in the — in our state in that case. We have to work on a collaborative basis, not because we’re going to compromise our principle, but because there’s common ground.”

“Well, first of all, I think Governor Romney’s going to have a busy first day,” Obama replied, “because he’s also going to repeal `Obamacare, which will not be very popular among Democrats as you’re sitting down with them.

“But, look, my philosophy has been, I will take ideas from anybody, Democrat or Republican, as long as they’re advancing the cause of making middle-class families stronger and giving ladders of opportunity to the middle class,” he said. “But, ultimately, part of being principled, part of being a leader is, A, being able to describe exactly what it is that you intend to do, not just saying, “I’ll sit down,” but you have to have a plan.”

“Number two, what’s important is occasionally you’ve got o say no, to — to — to folks both in your own party and in he other party,” Obama added. “And I’ve got to tell you, Governor Romney, when it comes to his own party during the course of this campaign, has not displayed that willingness to say no to some of the more extreme parts of his party.”

That’s not how most people remember a debate at the University of Denver that played better than two-to-one in Obama’s favor, according to post-debate polling, and gave Romney a boost in opinion polling in the weeks that followed.

Obama is still telling jokes about that first face-off: “You may have noticed I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate,” Obama said last night at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York, a charity event at which both he and Romney got several lines out at their own, and each others’ expense.

Yet, following a second debate at Hofstra University on Long Island on Oct. 16 which Obama won in the post-debate polling and on debating points as well, the Romney campaign is interested in keeping alive the vibes from that first debate — which, in this rendition, played like a silent movie for the president. Nielsen Media Research reported, 67.2 million viewers watched the first debate, 65.6 million the second one.

Their third and final debate, on foreign policy, comes Monday, Oct. 22, at 9 pm EDT.

They’ll both have plenty to say.

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