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Mitt Romney smirks after attacking President Obama over the Libya attacks
Also: Try not to smirk.
In preparing for the debates, Romney advisers have given National Review a look inside their bold operation of boldness. Their plan for the upcoming debates? Have Mitt Romney try to not suck so much.
Romney’s advisers have a simple strategy: They want their candidate to balance his finely tuned arguments with personal warmth. Since Romney is a reserved man, his advisers acknowledge that it will be difficult for him to endear himself to the country, especially under the hot studio lights. But they consider it critical. “This is really about introducing  him to the country,” a Romney adviser says. “It’s the largest audience he has ever had. Everybody’s watching.”
Yes. Yes, try to get Romney to display personal warmth. Genius—why did nobody try that before?
During prep sessions in Vermont this past month, Romney has worked tirelessly on the stylistic aspect of his presentation, and Romney’s advisers predict that the former Massachusetts governor will come across as both presidential and empathetic. Rather than fire off brusque retorts, as he often did during primary debates, Romney will take care “to speak in paragraphs about the economy,” a second aide says.
Empathy used to be bad. Now it's good again, and Mitt Romney's going to have a go at it. Also, he's going to speak in paragraphs. More genius!
Romney confidants are eager to counteract his reputation for aloofness. They want Romney to forcefully elucidate how the president is disconnected from the unemployed. Romney is inclined to talk about his business experience, sources say, and he may share stories from the trail, especially anecdotes about the recession’s impact on families and small businesses.
"Why, on the campaign trail I met lots of unemployed people. Hell, some of them I fired myself! I really connect with the little guy, you know what I'm saying? Because empathy and I feel your pain and shit. Now make me president, damn it."

I cannot imagine this going well. In fact, this all sounds like such a potential car wreck that I half wonder if his aides are saying this stuff in yet another attempt to ratchet down expectations. Mitt Romney doesn't have to make sense, or have ideas, or be truthful, or "win" the debate on merits—he just has to stand under the hot lights, not get flop-sweat, and do something, anything that might make the audience feel like maybe he's not a gigantic ass after all. That'll be what counts as a victory to them.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. Among the other tidbits offered up by his own team:

Expect Romney to frame the election early on as a choice between “free enterprise” and a “stagnant” government-based economy, which is how Gillespie explained it. Undecided voters, Madden added, want to hear about vision more than politics, and Romney wants to be seen as the more presidential and serious candidate.
Mitt's been doing this all throughout the campaign. It hasn't been connecting. Maybe that's because non-ideological people don't necessarily trust that what Mitt means by "free enterprise" isn't just code for letting corporations run wild, and we have already done that, but in any case, it hasn't been connecting. That aside, when one of the main charges against your candidate is that he is a stiff Wall Street type whose only conceived role for government is as an aide to business, maybe you should hesitate in framing all of your campaign rhetoric around that very theme.
Sources familiar with the prep say that part of Portman’s mission during the mock debates was to pry out elements of Romney’s personality in order to see what would translate well on national television and what should be muted. During the primary debates, Romney was frequently testy when challenged, and during heated moments he would sometimes arbitrarily switch between seeming belligerent and quietly tense.

That needed to be fixed.

Well, that sounds like a firmware problem, but got it: Romney gets pissed off easily. A "success" in this realm would consist of Mitt Romney not biting off the heads of small animals while onstage.
Romney’s team hopes that, beyond channeling his aggression, their man is disciplined on stage and avoids making any stray remarks or extemporaneous jokes. They’ve armed him with a bushel of zingers, sources say, and he’ll be ready with scripted lines on a variety of fronts.
"All right, Mitt, here are the lines you are supposed to say. If you need to tell a joke, tell one from this list over here. For the love of God, do NOT go off-script on us. Do not tell stories about the time your dad laid off a factory of workers. Do not tell stories about your family pets. Please stick to these cards."
The Romney-Ryan campaign has been getting wonky this month, with Paul Ryan holding town-hall meetings and clicking through PowerPoint slides in swing states. Romney, a self-professed policy guy, also enjoys getting into the weeds on health care and economics. But his time will be limited in Denver, and part of the debate prep has revolved around picking and choosing which data points to employ.
You're kidding me, right? Please tell me you're kidding me. Yes, the main Romney-Ryan problem will be in making sure they do not bog the audience down with details and specifics, as they so commonly do. That's really been the huge complaint against Romney and Ryan, hasn't it? Oh no, you're being much to wonky! Please stop telling us details about your tax plans, or how your budget numbers add up! No, we cannot take any more information about those loopholes you say you are going to close—it is too much information! Please, let us just look at puppies for a while!

I'm pretty damn sure they're kidding me.

His father, George Romney; his wife, Ann; and his five sons all may come up on Wednesday. Whereas statistics and policy are two areas where Romney is most comfortable, personal stories have often been hard for him to articulate. Romney’s advisers don’t seem to be pushing him to do a lot with personal anecdotes, but look for Romney to intersperse a few carefully selected stories.
"I swear to God, Mitt, you really need to stick to the script. Here are the approved personal stories you can tell. You got that? Just these—no others. Again, this stick of cards is for jokes, and this stack is for stories about your family. There are three you may tell. Not the boat one, none of the stuff about money, nothing about factories, and please do not mention any local foods. Just these. In fact, try not to tell any 'anecdotes' at all, but if you have to, sweet Jesus, please pick one of these three."

I've been all set to mock the endless "Romney should do X" pundit columns that have been out today, but really, nothing can top the Mitt Romney campaign's own advice to itself. That's a keeper.

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