Yes, he looked presidential. Yes, Obama looked tired and said “uh” a lot. But Romney’s performance will last beyond the first debate because of some tools Figaro has been talking about for years. Let’s take a look, shall we?
1. He talked like George W. Bush, only articulately.
Really. Like Bush, Romney showed with a lexicon of words to insert randomly—words that would show he has a heart. Words like “heart.” “Tender” (Romney called unemployment a “tender issue”). “Care” without “Obama” in front of it. “Children of God.” “Dreams.”
2. He made Obama seem arrogant.
The President, Romney said, makes the government “substitute itself for the rights of free individuals.” And the one zinger of the night belongs to the challenger: “Mr. President, you’re entitled, as the president, to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts.” Meanwhile, Obama kept silent about Romney’s arrogant “47 percent” speech.
3. He turned weaknesses into strengths.
The Republicans used to be consistently good at this. The Swift Boat attacks against John Kerry’s military record, for example, made people forget about George W. Bush’s own shaky military background. Last night Romney made Obama sound like a plutocrat, referring to “trickle-down government.” The phrase reverses the Democrats’ line about Republican trickle-down economics, making Romney sound more democratic than the Democrat.
4. He beat Obama on ethos.
This is the most most important win. Voters choose the candidate they like and trust. That’s ethos—the character people see in a candidate. Ethos is based on three perceived traits. Aristotle called them practical wisdom, disinterest, and virtue. We call them Craft, Caring and Cause. Romney came in prepared and knowledgeable (Craft). He used “heart” and threw in a baby anecdote and talked about suffering (Caring). And he came with a Cause: “…we look for discovery and innovation, all these thing desired out of the American heart to provide the pursuit of happiness for our citizens.”
No, that last sentence didn’t make logical sense. But Aristotle—who invented logic as we know it—noted that ethos trumps logic in rhetoric.
Will Romney’s clear win make enough of a difference? Though debates almost never do, this one just might. The conservative super PACs might get back into the game; they’d been shifting their advertising away from Romney toward congressional elections. And while the few undecided voters probably didn’t watch the debate, they’ll be influenced by the followup media.
So the race is back where we started: too close to call.