Preparing for the worst

One of the fascinating aspects of the three debates so far (two presidential, and one vice presidential) has been to watch how the candidates have handled their alleged vulnerabilities. In each debate, one or both of the candidates had a significant weakness or flaw that was ripe to be exploited by his opponent.

The thing is, everyone knew this. And that means the candidates — and more importantly, their debate prep teams — knew this even better. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the candidates have had some of their strongest moments on issues that were expected to trip them up.

In the above video, President Obama takes Mitt Romney to task for his criticism regarding the consulate attack in Benghazi, leaving the former Massachusetts governor flailing a bit in his response. This was supposed to be Romney’s trump card, and Obama — who had clearly been waiting to respond to this — instead turned it into perhaps his strongest moment of the night.

We saw similar dynamics during the vice presidential debate. Most expected Joe Biden to dominate Paul Ryan on foreign policy and for the opposite to occur in relation to Medicare. But in truth, something a little closer to the opposite took place: Ryan opened fire very early on regarding the attack in Libya, leaving Biden to issue a less than reassuring rebuttal about America’s resolve. Meanwhile, Biden proved perhaps more convincing on Medicare than Ryan did, never allowing the Congressman to drag the conversation into the weeds.

In the first presidential debate, the largest elephant in the room was Mitt Romney’s 47% comment, which Obama — in his dazed and confused performance that night — never managed to bring up. But assuredly Romney had a response all cued up beforehand for that as well. (Interestingly, Obama managed to work in a reference to the 47% issue on the last question of last night’s debate, a phenomenal tactical move that denied Romney the chance to use a prepackaged and rehearsed rebuttal.)

As the upcoming final debate next Monday is on foreign policy, technically the subject should be moving back onto Obama’s turf. But if there’s anything these first three debates have taught us (other than the enormous versatility of the common binder), it’s that waiting to pounce on your opponent’s weakest point does not always pay dividends.

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