Gaming The Debates

Fallows watched all of this season's primary debates and Obama's senate debate with Alan Keyes. His advice for the general election debates:

[McCain] will play the expectations game as hard as he can, knowing that’s how the press will keep score. Objectively, George W.Bush did poorly against both Gore and Kerry. But in each case, he did “better than expected,” and so, if anything, was helped by the debates. In every talk with reporters, the Republican campaign team will marvel at Obama’s gifts in rhetoric. Of course he’ll do well in debates; that goes along with being “all talk.”

Once he gets on the stage, McCain will try to remind Obama of Hillary Clintonthat is, of someone he must take seriously, someone who is willing to challenge him and even insult him to his face. Obama “is vain about his idealism and ‘nobility,’” a staff member for one of Obama’s Democratic opponents (not Clinton) told me on the phone. “He is thin-skinned about having his motives and competence questioned, so that’s what you do.” Grizzled pols like Hillary Clinton or her husband would laugh off such an attempt; Obama may still be innocent enough to be shaken by it. McCain made many dismissive references to Obama after Obama became the presumptive nominee. The easy next step is to do so while looking at him.

For Obama the key is: look at John McCain, and see Alan Keyes.