STRATEGI | Mitt Romney såg sin chans att vinna presidentvalet efter att ha besegrat Barack Obama i den första tv-sända val debatten 2012.
Teamet som ansvarade för att förbereda president Barack Obama inför de tre inplanerade debatterna började känna oro. Det var en oro de inte var ensamma om.
Även den i vanliga fall så självsäkre Obama började tveka om han klarade av den här typen av framträdanden.
Obama hade haft en konstant ledning i opinionsmättningarna under hela valrörelsen. Men det var också en högst marginell ledning.
Det fanns därför ingen garanti att för att Romney inte skulle ta ledningen och vända valrörelsen till sin egen fördel om presidenten misslyckades även i nästkommande duell.
Även presidenten insåg att något måste göras.
“These are not debates,” Obama observed to Plouffe. “These are gladiatorial enterprises.”
The first lady worried about her Maximus and his return to the Colosseum. In truth, she had fretted over the debates even before Denver. In July, around the time her husband’s prep started, she met with Plouffe and expressed firm opinions. That Barack had to speak from the gut, in language that regular folks could understand. Had to avoid treating the debates like policy seminars. Had to keep his head out of the clouds.
The president was presented with a piece of overarching advice and a memo, both of which would have been inconceivable before Denver. The advice was […] “the Six A’s”:
Advocate (don’t explain)
Answers with principles and values
Allow yourself to take advantage of openings
Klain turned Obama’s prep regime upside down: new strategy, new tactics, new structure. In Williamsburg, there would be an intense concentration on performance, including speeding up Obama’s ponderous delivery. There would be less policy Q&A and more rehearsal of set pieces and lines that popped. Less emphasis on programmatic peas and spinach, more on anecdote and empathy. Contrary to Clinton’s advice, there would be plenty of punching to go along with the counterpunching.
“We’re here, Mr. President,” Klain began, “because we need to have a serious conversation about why this isn’t working and the fundamental transformation we need to achieve today to avoid a very bad result tomorrow night.” We’re not going to get there by continuing to grind away and marginally improve, Klain went on. This is not about changing the words in your debate book, because the difference between the answers that work and the answers that don’t work is just 15 or 20 percent. This is about style, engagement, speed, presentation, attitude. Candidly, we need to figure out why you’re not rising to and meeting the challenge—why you’re not really doing this, why you’re doing … something else.
Obama didn’t flinch. “Guys, I’m struggling,” he said somberly. “Last night wasn’t good, and I know that. Here’s why I think I’m having trouble. I’m having a hard time squaring up what I know I need to do, what you guys are telling me I need to do, with where my mind takes me, which is: I’m a lawyer, and I want to argue things out. I want to peel back layers.”
“When I get a question,” he said, “I go right to the logical.” You ask me a question about health care. There’s a problem, and there’s a response. Here’s what my opponent might say about it, so I’m going to counteract that. Okay, we’re gonna talk about immigration. Here’s what I’d like to say—but I can’t say that. Think about what that means. I know what I want to say, I know where my mind takes me, but I have to tell myself, No, no, don’t do that—do this other thing. It’s against my instincts just to perform. It’s easy for me to slip back into what I know, which is basically to dissect arguments. I think when I talk. It can be halting. I start slow. It’s hard for me to just go into my answer. I’m having to teach my brain to function differently. I’m left-handed; this is like you’re asking me to start writing right-handed.
Throughout the campaign, Obama had been criticized for the thin gruel of his second-term agenda. Now he acknowledged that it bothered him, too, and posed a challenge for the debates.
You keep telling me I can’t spend too much time defending my record, and that I should talk about my plans, he said. But my plans aren’t anything like the plans I ran on in 2008. I had a universal-health-care plan then. Now I’ve got … what? A manufacturing plan? What am I gonna do on education? What am I gonna do on energy? There’s not much there.
“I can’t tell you that ‘Okay, I woke up today, I knew I needed to do better, and I’ll do better,’ ” Obama said. “I am wired in a different way than this event requires.”
“I just don’t know if I can do this,” he said.
Obama’s advisers sat silently at first, absorbing the extraordinary moment playing out in front of them. In October of an election year, on the eve of a pivotal debate, the president wasn’t talking about tactics or strategy, about this line or that zinger. He was talking about personal contradictions and ambivalences, about his discomfort with the campaign he was running, about his unease with the requirements of politics writ large, about matters that were fundamental, even existential. We are in uncharted territory here, thought Klain.
The full team reconvened in Obama’s hold room. Klain ran through his memo of the previous night and explained to the president the new new format for his prep: For the rest of the day until his final mock, they were going to drill him incessantly on the ten or so topics they expected to come up in the debate, compelling him to repeat his bullet points over and over again. Klain also presented Obama with his debate-on-a-page:
1. (Your) Speed Kills (Romney)
2. Upbeat and Positive in Tone
3. Passion for People and Plans
4. OTR [Off the Record] Mind-set—Have Fun
5. Strong Sentences to Start and End
6. Engage the Audience
7. Don’t Chase Rabbits
Resten är vad man säger historia. Obama vann de två nästkommande valdebatterna och behöll därmed ledningen valrörelsen igenom.
Heilemanns och Halperins nya bok Double Down: Game Change 2012 ger en intressant bild av presidenten och alla turerna under valkampanjen.
Här får man följa bl.a. Obamas kampanjteam som bestod av David Axelrod, huvudansvarig för att upprätthålla budskapsdisciplin; David Plouffe, valstrateg och rådgivare i Vita huset; Anita Dunn, tidigare Vita husets communications director; Joel Benenson, tidigare medarbetare hos Mario Cuomo; Jon Favreau, Obamas talskrive samt Ron Klain, ansvarig för Obamas debatträning.
Läs mer: Ovanstående bearbetning är från ett utdrag från boken som publicerats i tidskriften New York.
Tidskriftsomslag: New York, 11 november 2012.