Why Romney Won on Monday (But Debaters Thought He Lost)

When Bob Schieffer opened up Monday’s debates with Benghazi, I expected blood. So did my debaters and coaches in our Twitter group. Talk about momentum that fell flat. I was beside myself. Some of my debate coaches – one an avid supporter of Romney in the primaries – was admitting Romney the loser. The consensus was clear: Romney lost, perhaps big.

This is an academic debate round at one of my camps. Who are the debaters supposed to persuade?

Then Wendy, my wife, piped up. “I think Romney won.”

You know my family. I’m the debate coach, not Wendy. So I proceeded to argue with her because, naturally, I’m the better debater.

But she won the argument. Here’s why. 

The Champion Debaters Get It

There is one single reason Mitt Romney won on Monday, and as polls continue to roll in, he won big. It was the one move that Democrats did not calculate. Funny thing, this one thing is something we specifically ask our debaters to focus on, rather than making the novice mistakes that Obama made. Doggonit, I should have seen this.

The organization I run, Training Minds, “trains minds for action” – particularly for competitive debaters. We are proud of our success, many top champions in various debate leagues are our alumni. One reason they’re champs is because of what we teach them: rounds may “win on the flow,” but sometimes the ballots go to the other team. Champions work this to their advantage; novice debaters resort to complaining about the injustice of it all.

Presidents should be focused champions, not complainers. Here is the rule we teach our students to embrace:

To win the debate, sway the judge.

Not your opponent, not your friends, not your parents or coach. The one who fills out the ballot at a tournament is the one who needs to be persuaded. Simple. Deal with it.

Sound too simple? It’s surprising how many debaters mess this up. Very novice debaters sometimes try to persuade their opponent, creating awkward situations during cross-examinations when their opponents don’t (surprise!) agree with their arguments. But even more experienced debaters fumble this when they assume their judges will be persuaded on just the arguments. They fail to recognize the subjectivity of the sport, and ultimately fail to persuade and win.

Wendy Was Persuaded

Think about this. Did Romney need to persuade people like me? I’m a debate coach and a pundit. I want Mitt to win the arguments. If Obama were to persuade me, he’d have to win the argument, too, or at least discourage me so much to find it difficult to promote my man, Mitt. To please me, Romney and Obama should have fought hard.

Obama fought. He was quick with sneering comments and attempted to school Romney in foreign policy. And I bet he was prepared to rebut Benghazi, just as he was last week when he signaled for Candy Crowley – the so-called mediator – to pull a script that countered Romney’s accusation of what the Obama Administration had been touting for two weeks after the attack. I wanted Romney to pull out a bazooka Monday night, but he instead pulled out a softball. Obama walked – and he chided Romney as he did, almost calling out, “nanner, nanner…you don’t know how to be Commander in Chie-eeef.” They went on to the next question.

Wendy huffed. I puffed. The debate continued.

Other topics rose, and Romney was composed and Obama was aggressive. On Iran, Romney admitted he would continue Obama’s sanctions “and then some,” with the subtle correction that an nuclear Iran was the most serious threat in region. Romney attempted to explain the need for a stronger military, and Obama schooled him that we don’t need as many “horses and bayonets” any longer.

I was agitated with Romney. So were my coaches. We Tweeted the responses we thought Romney should have made. “One of our ambassadors are dead! Iran shot down one of our droids, and we didn’t even try taking it back! We’re still in Iraq! Al Qaeda is rising! Don’t agree with the 2014 deadline, dismiss that like Ryan did! What about Gitmo? What about Yemin? Why do you keep bringing up the economy? Stay on topic! Gahhh!”

Wendy was agitated, too, but with the other guy. Obama. She saw confidence in Romney. “If I were a diplomat, I’d like to talk with Romney instead.” She also said that she’d feel safer with Romney as president. She feared another Obama presidency would mean American weakness and more instability in other parts of the world.

Who was right? Me or Wendy? I was, of course, but I didn’t matter. That’s the point. Romney still won. I’ll explain why tomorrow. First, I want to hear from you.

Who do you think won the final Presidential Debate on Monday?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • JDK

    I understand you like Romney, but the way you speak about our President is disrespectful.

  • v.butterfield

    Personally, when this last debate was over….my husband and I thought that Romney clearly won. We were shocked to see what the media had to say Tuesday morning. I thought there was no way that Obama had won that debate. He was too defensive and cut Romney down more than defend what he would or would not do himself. Romney didn’t bite….very often. He restrained himself. I think Romney did a great job keeping Obama on the defensive. That’s my .02 anyway LOL

    • Great comments. Question: are you academic debaters? If not, that’s my point exactly. Romney’s decision to take the “higher ground” worked.