Well. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Mitt Romney and Ed Milband were this week’s clear winners with an appeal to the squeezed middle, a forcefulness of personality and an ease of style when handling substance.
Simply put, Ed and Mitt were the ones who told stories; Obama spoke of stats. As such he didn’t connect with his audience and thus all his trademark logic of old was as nought to Romney’s colloquial cut through.
While the data tells us that the debates actually have a very limited effect on voting intentions and Obama’s lock on the electoral college remains secure, looking at what happened a few hours ago is instructive.
Weighed down by four years of emersion in policy and used to interaction with subordinate staffers the President is likely more used to deference then a debate of equals and so the political athlete who rocked the world four years ago was missing tonight. This was the same problem Reagan faced in ’84, George H.W. Bush in ’92 and George W. Bush in ’04. But before panic sets in its worth noting that in two out of those three examples the incumbent President rebounded to win.
A key error was the Oppo arsenal the President left untouched. Romney’s 47% remarks, the false claim of $700bn of Medicare cuts, the Paul Ryan budget’s privatization of public pensions – all went unfired. Contrast that with Ed’s no-holds-barred, all-out assault on the Tories.
Obama’s performance tonight shows the danger of sitting on a lead and playing defence. Ed knew that this week and, ignoring his 10 point lead cast caution to the wind and went on the offensive with his bold claim of One Nation Labour delivered via the high stakes gamble of a no-notes hour-plus speech. Obama in contrast hugging his Ohio lead decided to bank his advantages and play to run down the clock.
And look at the result. As both Hillary and David can bitterly attest from 2008 and 2010 the scrappy insurgent against the complacent front runner is a winning play. Team Ed knows that. Team Romney knows that and you can be sure Obama master strategist David Plouffe who literally wrote the book on that knows it too.
Come the next debate Professor Obama must be retired so Candidate Obama can cut through. Ed showed this week how a top class political athlete can win by being gutsy. Time for Barack to call him and learn how even the President of the United States can “speak human”.
Marcus Roberts is Deputy General Secretary of he Fabian Society