09/30/2012 08:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Huffington & Matalin on Mitt's Do-or-Die Debate in Denver

By Mark Green

Arianna and Mary discuss whether a) Romney can be the Comeback CEO in the first Debate or b) , as John Kenneth Galbraith said of Black Tuesday, 1929, "the end had come but it was not yet in sight."

On Romney's Slide. Mary doesn't adopt the "polls feh!" spin of the Limbaugh-Morris crowd, instead attributing a shift in the numbers to "Democrats coming home and closing a 20 point enthusiasm gap [after their Convention]. But there's been no Obama surge, no fundamentals have changed -- and jobs numbers are even worse."


Arianna pins blame: The GOP wanted this to be a referendum on Obama but instead it's been a referendum on Romney because the campaign has not done a good job -- she notes the Clint Eastwood fiasco -- "which is surprising because Romney's supposed to be a competent businessman."

Was the 47 percent tape devastating, a "turning point"? How does Romney now convince people, in his words, that he's for "the 100 percent... the poor and middle class" in the face of his own disparagement of "victims" who won't "take responsibility for their own lives"? Mary dismisses the significance of the video, regarding it as little more than a "we didn't build that" gaffe. Arianna thinks the challenger still has a chance but time is running out.

On What to Expect in First Debate. If Howard Cosell returned to do pre-Debate color commentary, he'd likely opine, "Does Romney need an Eli Manning-like fourth quarter in the Do-or-Die-Debate in Denver?"

With 50 million watching, what will the Wednesday Debate turn on -- expectations, substance, style (Gore's sighing, Bush glancing at his watch)? Arianna answers "surprise." Referring to a Huffington Post piece by Howard Fineman, she thinks that Romney needs to "surprise us by showing humor, quickness on his feet, and details about his vision." She adds that "the odds aren't high."

Mary doubts either that one of the candidates will make a catastrophic error (Ford freeing Poland, Dukakis calmly opposing the death penalty if his wife was hypothetically murdered) or that "the debate will be a decisive moment, like the 1980 one was, since many will be waiting for the Ryan-Biden debate." What advice does she have for Obama? "He should resist showing his disdain of Romney and his self-love. He has a superiority complex." She'd like moderator Jim Lehrer to ask him "how his unelected 15 member advisory board will make decisions about whom to cover under Medicare?" Arianna would like Romney questioned about how he can justify his expansion of the military given budget realities and why he's "outsourced his foreign policy to neo-cons."

Host: given sagging poll numbers and a now ingrained style of unrelenting attacks, expect Romney to try to be aggressive without being nasty and substantive without being specific. While he has the advantage of being the underdog who gains by looking equal to the President, how does he explain holding exactly the opposite position on everything he now asserts so sincerely? Or explain how his policies domestically don't make him Bush III? Also, it's hard to see Obama as being anything other than his usually cool-hand self who will counter-punch when necessary. And watch for him to newly chastise the 14% do-nothing House a) to bolster his case against Ryan-Romney and b) to increase the odds that Democrats win the House or at least increase their ranks. As for anticipation of a rusty, smug Obama, when has he not risen to the occasion when the game is on the line?

Result: Romney wins expectations. Obama wins on style and substance. Polls show little change.

On State of Warren-Brown Contest and Senate Control. With Democrats defending 23 senate seats and the GOP only 10, what has transpired that leads RealClearPolitics to predict a 52-48 majority for the Dems?

Mary reiterates her point about a new "homeostasis" as Democrats in these races are also coming home now while acknowledging that the GOP got some bad breaks in Maine, Nebraska, Missouri; also, there's an impulse in presidential years for national trends to affect local races. But she chides Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin for bellyaching that he's fallen behind Democrat Tammy Baldwin because Romney's doing so poorly. "Shows he's a bad candidate," she sniffs.

In Massachusetts, we all agree that there are two very competent, appealing rivals. Arianna scoffs at how Brown is trying to make Warren's ethnic heritage an issue (she's 1/32 Indian) though Mary thinks she should broaden his attack to include affirmative action vs. racial preferences generally. Mary adds that Brown's having a harder time than in his 2011 special election victory because he lacks the argument that Warren will be the 60th Senate vote for Democrats, not to mention that she is a national darling attracting record out-of-state money.

Arianna concludes by touting Warren skills, brains, and personal authenticity. What about the double hypothetical that if a) she wins in 2012 and b) Hillary doesn't run for President, she could she be a credible candidate in 2016? Another brainy professor president?" Absolutely yes because she's remarkable and encapsulates the problems of the middle class."

Host again as Seer: first, Warren will win because so many more Democrats vote in a presidential year with Obama doubling Romney in the Bay State...and because she has a political argument he can't rebut: while Brown is a moderate independent Republican, a vote for him is in effect a vote for far-right Senate leaders like Jim Inhofe since he's in the Republican Caucus; second, should she win, President Obama will likely replace the departing Secretary of State with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry; third, in the special election after Kerry is confirmed, Scott Brown will surely run again if he stays competitive with Warren, this time not to succeed a Kennedy but against a Kennedy. That would be Joe Kennedy IV, the new 32-year old congressman in the 4th CD, the former Stanford lacrosse captain, Peace Corpsman, DA office lawyer and tousled red-haired grand nephew of Senator Ted Kennedy.

Quick Takes: President of the World; JFK on tape; Emmy Results. Consensus alerts! The women agree that Bill Clinton's rising and enormous popularity owes significantly to the good deeds of his recent years and Clinton Global Initiative, with Mary stressing that Hillary and he are "the real deal." After listening to JFK on tape during the Cuban Missile Crisis and discussing the Soviet's lead in space, the two are reminded how big an impact his death had on them as 10 and 13 year old girls and about his mastery of public affairs. And they're cool with the many Emmys for Homeland and Game Change. Arianna marvels how Showtime's Homeland is such a huge, cross-platform hit beyond "appointment television."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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