Ronald Reagan’s debate advice for Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at The Seagate Center in Toledo, Ohio, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, during a campaign stop. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)


Ronald Reagan’s Advice for Romney at the Debates

With President Obama ahead in the polls, Republican challenger Mitt Romney needs the debates to be a game-changer. For advice on how to do well, he could look to one of the great GOP debaters, Ronald Reagan.

Storified by Digital First Media · Mon, Oct 01 2012 06:03:23

With President Obama ahead in the polls, Republican challenger Mitt Romney needs the debates to be a game-changer. For advice on how to do well, he could look to one of the great GOP debaters, Ronald Reagan.

1. Be Tough

Mitt Romney is known for keeping his cool. Even at his angriest, the Republican candidate for president dishes out criticism with a grin and an often calm tone (his pointed attack on Newt Gingrich lobbying is a prime example). That’s no crime, but it has had a significant impact on the public perception of Romney as a politician who might secretly have an iron fist, but is wearing fuzzy mittens to cover them up. For Romney, the first debate this week may be time for the gloves to come off.
Take this moment in the 1980 presidential primary when a debate moderator tried to turn off Reagan’s microphone for going over his allotted time.
Ronald Reagan’s famous line, "I am paying for this microphone"thepoliticallion

2. Be Funny

This might be a tough one for Romney, who has a lingering reputation as being out of touch with pop culture, middle-class Americans and the average amount of money one might put down for a garden-variety bet. Reagan had his fair share of similar criticisms, but he also knew how to turn a phrase to get anyone watching the debate to chuckle. There’s a huge deal at stake in presidential debates (such as, say, the leadership of the free world), but a well-placed joke or snarky rebuttal can go a long way to defusing a political argument.
In 1984, Reagan used humor to deflect the criticism that he was too old to serve another term with a key joke at Democratic rival Walter Mondale’s expense.
Reagan-Mondale debate: the age issuelawford83

3. Disarm Your Opponent

In a debate where the cameras are always rolling, it’s important to be ready for a counter-attack and to not let the initial criticism slow you down. Romney can be sure that President Obama will have a number of criticisms of his campaign arguments at the ready, so he needs to find a way to respond to them without looking petty or flustered.
After being harshly criticized by Jimmy Carter in 1980 on his health care decisions, Reagan began his response with four simple words that would be imprinted America’s political lexicon: “There you go again.” 
Ronald Reagan:There You Go Againsshillings

4. Paint a Picture

With so many complicated issues at stake, debates have a way of getting deep into the political weeds. The trick to keeping the audience engaged, both in person at the debates and in transcripts and video clips afterward, is to paint a picture of what the policies will mean. Romney needs to show, not tell, his campaign platform. 
Reagan often used this technique in debates, such as the memorable time when he criticized Mondale for opposing the construction of the USS Nimitz. 
Reagan – Mondale slug it out.historylinks

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