Wait, I lost my presidential campaign reporter clichÉ instructional booklet and I can't recall what I'm supposed to do today. Let's see...we in the media have yammered endlessly about the "veepstakes," chattered pointlessly about the "convention bounce," and I can't remember what we're supposed to fill space with now.
Wait! Yes! The game of lowering expectations before the debate! Ah, it's a time-honored tradition with which reporters fill many dozens of column inches every four years. Beautiful. So, where were we? Yesterday, the Obama campaign suggested that the president could "fall off the stage." Now, it's the Romney campaign's turn, in the form of a hilariously self-effacing memo:
Voters already believe – by a 25-point margin – that President Obama is likely to do a better job in these debates. Given President Obama’s natural gifts and extensive seasoning under the bright lights of the debate stage, this is unsurprising. President Obama is a uniquely gifted speaker, and is widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history. This will be the eighth one-on-one presidential debate of his political career. For Mitt Romney, it will be his first.
But Daily Kos user brooklynbadboy points out that the Romney campaign can't even get the lowered expectations game right: They've talked way too publicly about how much Romney has been prepping for this debate—including five faux debates in one 48-hour period. Combine that with the fact that the Romney campaign has been assuaging donors all along by saying that there will be three game-changing moments in their campaign—the VP pick, the Republican convention, and the first debate—and you've got a team that's inadvertently set expectations way too high.
If nothing insane happens at that debate next Wednesday, the story doesn't change. And if the story doesn't change, that's bad for Romney, no matter how hard his campaign tries to lean into Romney's incompetence with a he's-a-bad-campaigner-but-he'd-be-a-great-president series of carefully controlled "leaks" from "insiders." Campaigns absolutely hint at how a candidate will govern, and no modern president has been able to win by suggesting they've got secret talents that their campaign doesn't display. That last move, especially, feels like a pathetic way to try to manipulate journalists who need to fill space, even in one of the most boring weeks of the 2012 campaign.