A senior aide to Mitt Romney says the Republican nominee and his team believe that he only needs to come away with a tie in Tuesday night’s second debate with President Obama in order to continue his surge in the polls, and Romney is prepared for the president to “lash out” at him despite the more genteel town-hall format.
“He does not need to take home the same performance” as in the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3, in which Romney was widely considered the dominant debater, the aide, who is involved in the debate preparation, told National Journal on Tuesday. He said that the Romney team is preparing for a fierce attack from Obama on all fronts even though a town-hall format generally requires candidates to address questioners from the audience more than they do each other.
“They can’t afford another debate where they don’t lash out,” said the aide, who would speak only on condition of anonymity about internal debate preparations. “So we’re ready for it: the ‘47 percent’ comment, Bain Capital, the Cayman Islands” tax shelters, all of which have been staples of the Obama ad campaign in recent months.
While the aide’s comments smacked of the usual lowering of expectations before a debate, they also suggested a high level of confidence in the Romney camp.
An Obama campaign official responded in an email that the president is aware that “this is a town hall, so the focus will be the voter. But, when necessary, the president will keep Mitt honest though that could take all night. Regardless of style, which Mitt will perform well no doubt, he carries a burden of explaining things that have been fully and thoroughly debunked – like how he’ll pay for his tax plan or gets the 12 million jobs to add up.”
The Romney team doesn’t expect foreign policy to dominate this debate, but they also hope to raise fresh questions over the Sept. 11 death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya by focusing on what they consider a misstatement by Vice President Joe Biden in his Oct. 11 debate with Rep. Paul Ryan, the aide said. Despite testimony last week from the State Department's former regional security officer that he had asked for more security at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Biden said “we weren’t told they wanted more security there.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Biden “was speaking directly for himself and for the president,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told CNN that “the president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.”
The Romney aide said that despite kudos for Biden’s performance at that debate, it is the vice president’s remarks that have continued to cause controversy. “Strategically, a lot of it was a gold mine of opportunities in terms of where we can go,” he said. “Will Obama own what Biden said, or contradict him?”
The Romney aide added that the GOP candidate is especially prepared for the kind of attack that Biden delivered in his debate over questions of whether the “math” adds up in Romney’s plan for 20 percent marginal tax cuts, which the GOP ticket has maintained would not increase the deficit because Romney would eliminate unspecified tax deductions, credits, and exemptions. Asked about a new report from the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that concludes eliminating all itemized deductions would result only in a 4 percent decrease in income tax rates, he said the campaign will go back at the president by making “arguments against Obama that he has not answered for what his plan for a second term will be, beyond letting Bush’s tax cuts for the upper income expire.”
In the first debate, Obama criticized the Romney tax plan, but he focused mainly on a figure from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center that concluded the Republican nominee’s scheme would cut taxes by $5 trillion, which Romney promptly denied.
“He did it pretty well last time," the aide said of Romney. “He prosecuted the case against Obama quite well but had a smile on his face.”