In politics, as in sports, the psychology of a team matters at least as much as other factors -- and usually more. In sports, something like this happens all the time: one team is kicking the other's butt, breezing along to what seems like an easy victory, when all of a sudden something dramatic changes. One big play, one dumb mistake, one moment on which things turn. All of a sudden the team that was losing comes back hard and strong, and the team that had been winning freezes up and starts playing poorly. Now, that purely psychological momentum shift doesn't mean the change is permanent, or that the team that was ahead loses in the end, but it is a critical moment in a contest. It needs to be dealt with aggressively, generally by taking a deep breath, calming down, and going back to what was working before.
As you astute readers probably guessed, that metaphor relates very much to the moment we are in right now in the presidential election. The Obama campaign had built a solid lead and had been running very smoothly, while Romney kept making dumb mistakes and had dug a hole for himself. When Obama had a bad night and Romney had a good one, it threw the Obama team for a loop and gave the Romney team confidence. Almost a week after the debate, what it feels like is that the Obama team still has not gotten its rhythm or confidence back. What they need to do is to go back to what was working for them before the debate. I have seen nothing in the polling I am looking at that makes me think the core dynamics in this race have changed, and we need to go back to what was winning before: contrasting the basic differences in philosophy, values, and economics -- and driving home the 47 percent video which defines Romney so well.
What the Obama ads have been doing ever since the debate is to say, in a variety of ways using a variety of validators from the media, that Romney lied. It sure is true, but that isn't convincing to swing voters. What is convincing is to show them Romney being two-faced. And the policy stuff is less important than the values piece. All you have to do is directly juxtapose a clip from the debate with the 47 percent video, as in:
You can't have a starker contrast between someone saying one thing in private and something else completely different in public. It would be powerful and dramatic, and it would get you out of the he said/she said of who is a liar.
The Obama campaign has been consistently winning the debate in this election -- on economic policy, on values and on philosophy. Romney gave us an incredible gift with the 47 percent video, because it shows as clear as a bell what his values are, and it powerfully reinforces the debate victory we were already enjoying. We need to shake off Obama's bad night, stop playing defense and go back to the game plan that was working very well for us.
Oh, and keep using the Big Bird thing, because it really is fun. Here's a great new ad: