If you've been craving a more uplifting tone in the presidential campaign, this is your week. President Obama and Mitt Romney have spent much of the past year tearing each other down, but in the days before their first debate next Wednesday, they can't stop saying nice things about each other. In boxing, fighters go around trash talking like Mohammad Ali, trying to psych out their opponent by bragging. In presidential debates, candidates have to convince reporters that they are destined to lose, and if they emerge from the debate hall with most limbs still attached, they've won.
The stakes are especially high because pundits and some Republicans see the debate as Romney's last, best chance to change the race and overcome a growing deficit in the polls. ("It went from being important to being life-sustaining," Republican pollster Steve Lombardo told Politico. "Unquestionably, he has to do well in the first debate," 2002 Romney aide Rob Gray told the Boston Globe.) Romney's been practicing for weeks. Obama's campaign has claimed he's been too busy to practice, though that sounds like reverse-trash talk. He'll have a debate prep retreat this weekend in Nevada, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Behold, the unprecedented levels of niceness from the campaigns directed at their opponents.
Obama: Godlike Oratorical Genius
- Obama "is known for his world class oratory, is a world-class debater who laid waste to Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John McCain," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
- "One thing that I think has been missing in some of the discussion I’ve heard is that Barack Obama is a very effective debater," Sen. Rob Portman, who's playing Obama in Romney's debate prep, told Politico.
- "He’s articulate, he’s smart," Portman added.
- "He did a great job in 2008, during that campaign as a debater," Portman continued.
- "He had some tough debates with Hillary Clinton and he performed well," Portman elaborated further.
- "He’s up to speed everyday, because he deals with all these issues, federal issues everyday," Portman detailed.
- "I think Barack Obama will be formidable," Portman concluded.
- "He’s a smart guy," Portman explained further on a follow-up question.
- "He’s very good at the politics of this," Portman elaborated further still.
- "And so what he does is what a good politician does, connecting with folks, explaining the issue from his perspective, hedging on the truth sometimes by doing so," Portman said.
- "But he’s a good politician," Portman concluded again.
Romney: Better Trained Than an Olympic Champion
- Romney has been prepping like an "Olympic decathlete" Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki told ABC News.
- "He has been training for them like an Olympic decathlete, starting earlier than any candidate in modern history and running through mock debates five times in 48 hours," Psaki told the Los Angeles Times. (Psaki has been training hard on her talking points, too, it seems.)
- Romney could get a bounce in polls "just by being on the same stage as the incumbent," Obama officials told ABC.
- "Imagine if the Super Bowl was the first game you played this year," Obama super PAC adviser Paul Begala told the Boston Globe of Obama's unpreparedness.
- Obama "certainly hasn’t participated in five mock debates in 48 hours as the Romney campaign told Politico that the governor did," an anonymous Obama aide told the Globe.
Of course, there are corresponding levels of unprecedented self-deprecation from two men known for their confidence in their own abilities.
Obama: Unprepared Rambler
- "But in contrast to Mitt Romney, President Obama has had to cut back some of his preparation already because of his duties as president," an anonymous Obama aide told the Globe.
- "The President will have a little bit of time to review and practice before the debates, but he has had to balance the management of world events, governing, time out campaigning and will have less time than we anticipated to sharpen and cut down his tendency to give long, substantive answers," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told ABC News.
- Obama will "have less time than we anticipated to sharpen and cut down his tendency to give long, substantive answers," Psaki told the Los Angeles Times, too.
Romney: A N00b Out of His League
- "I’ve, you know, I’ve never been in a presidential debate like this and it will be a new experience," Romney told Fox News.
- "Mitt Romney’s a business guy and a former governor. He actually hasn’t had a debate against a Democrat in over ten years I think, I guess it would be 2002 when he ran for governor," Portman told Politico.
- "People say, ‘Well he’s been debating with the Republicans in the primaries.’ Very different debates. Being someone who prepares people for debates and having been in a bunch of debates myself – you know they have five, 10 people on the stage all within the spectrum of the party that you’re in, whether you’re democrat or republican, is very different than going one-to-one with someone from the other party," Portman added.