You need to win this first debate — badly. You've got to make up ground, and you've got to do it against a familiar incumbent. It'll be tough, but not impossible. The good news is that there are rules to presidential debates, and no replacement refs to mess them up. Here's how to use those rules to win the first debate on Wednesday.
1. Start off right. When you shake hands with
2. Identify yourself. After you've introduced yourself to the president, it's time to introduce yourself to the voters. You've changed your message quite a bit recently — with reason, certainly, but dodging gaffes of your own making doesn't overcome the fact that voters don't know much more about you than "He's not-Obama." It's time to tell us about
3. Don't bother with policy details. It takes a
4. Give us a moment we'll remember. Every politician has a few defining moments, and right now, yours don't look so good. It's time to change that. I doubt you've got a zinger for the ages in you, but surely you can muster up something that we'll still be talking about by Election Day. If it's going to be a personal crack about Obama, though, it had better be, in the parlance of your old state, Massachusetts, wicked funny. Clever jabs at opposing candidates ("where's the beef?") get remembered favorably. Mean-spirited remarks lose voters.
5. A piece of advice for you and President Obama. You're on that stage because you've been nominated by your party to run for the presidency of the United States. There is only one greater honor in the world, and that's to win this election. Act like it. Don't waste this opportunity on nonsense and squabbling. Drop the semi-honest talking points, the attacks and the smoke screens, and get down to what actually matters.
Tell Americans why you deserve to lead our country. Tell us where you believe we should be, and how you're going to get us there. Give us a reason to place our faith in that vision, and in your leadership to get us there. If either you or President Obama takes this advice and elevates his half of the debates to a contest of leadership, ideas and goals, that candidate is going to win the debates, and probably the election with them. He'll deserve it.