Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. His strategy includes luring the president into appearing smug or evasive about his responsibility for the economy. [...]Who knows whether this actually reflects Romneyland's thinking or if it's just a head fake (Eric Ferhrnstrom refused to comment on it directly), but if they really think the only thing standing between Mitt Romney and the presidency is his ability to deliver zingers and goad President Obama into a "likable enough" style mistake, they are stone cold insane.
During rehearsals, Mr. Romney has tried lines of attack suggesting that Mr. Obama distorts the facts and sloughs off responsibility on others. Mr. Romney’s aides recall Mr. Obama’s tart “you’re likable enough” line to Mrs. Clinton in 2008 and hope to goad him into a similarly churlish moment. Mr. Romney will win, the advisers said, if he can force Mr. Obama to come across as condescending or smug.
First of all, zingers are great entertainment, but zingers don't win elections. Just ask Vice President Lloyd Bentsen. And don't forget, Bentsen was only able to pull off his zinger because he had the stature to deliver it—and because Quayle so richly deserved it. Romney has neither of those things working in his favor.
Second, the reason that Obama's "likable enough" moment caused him trouble is that he was attacking a sympathetic figure who had a real political base. In other words, Mitt Romney is no Hillary Clinton. I mean, in light of Romney's 47 percent video, there's probably a fair number of people who would cheer the president if he walked across the stage and punched Mitt Romney in the face on behalf of the tens of millions of Americans that Romney so callously dismissed. But even if it were possible for Obama to say something that generated sympathy for Romney, it's not like Obama's "likable enough" comment cost him the nomination.
Romney's real challenge on Wednesday is the same challenge he's had throughout the general election: he needs to convince voters who supported President Obama in 2008 that they made a mistake. A strategy of zingers and goading won't help him do that. Instead, he needs to not just criticize President Obama, but make the case that the country would be better off today if John McCain (or he) had been elected president in 2008. And probably the biggest problem Mitt Romney has in this election is that most people don't believe that—because it's not true. No amount of zinging and goading can change that fact.