Presidents, whether Democrat or Republican, by their position and ego are often isolated leaders who hear what they want to hear, work with supporters who don’t want to tell him bad news and usually never get into heated staff debates over policy issues. Psychologists have coined the word for this ego-driven phenomenon – group think.
Well Barack Obama may have become, at least in the short term, a victim of group think as he played defense rather than offense during the first debate and missed numerous opportunities to put Mitt Romney on the defensive.
Obama was detached and lacked enthusiasm, he chose to be professorial rather than political, and for some reason he did not care to look at Governor Romney in his face, instead gazing at the moderator and the viewers. When you choose not to look at your opponent, viewers begin to wonder if you are arrogant and condescending.
On substantive policy issues, Obama certainly held his own and both he and Romney threw data at the viewers that for most voters was incomprehensible. – most have never heard of Simpson-Bowles and Dodd-Frank. But throwing out numbers is not what viewers are looking for; they are looking for someone who they feel comfortable with, who they like, who exudes confidence. Mitt Romney came away with a likeability victory, while Obama’s penchant for coolness hurt him.
Now debates usually only reinforce positions rather than change positions, but in states like Ohio where an Obama victory is essential and is at present in his camp, it will be interesting over the weekend to see if Romney’s likeability swayed voters. Just because CNN gave the victory to Romney, doesn’t mean that translates into support in the swing states, especially Ohio.
There are two more presidential debates and one vice-presidential debates, so there are additional opportunities for the Democratic team to get out their message in a way that solidifies their base and attracts the undecideds. But another aloof performance by the President could be a a real game changer.