Trevor Brookins

*There were four debates scheduled ahead of election day when our country will vote for our next president.

The focus for the debates was scheduled as follows:

1st Presidential Debate – domestic policy

Vice-Presidential Debate – foreign and domestic policy

2nd Presidential Debate – foreign and domestic policy

3rd Presidential Debate – foreign policy

This schedule favors Obama and I am surprised that the Romney campaign didn’t negotiate the opposite; meaning a debate about domestic policy closer to the election.

Generally speaking, unless there has been an incredible failure, the incumbent has an advantage. In 2012 that means that Romney had to somehow capture the public’s imagination. Romney’s best chance at getting the public on his side, and the central argument of his campaign for over a year, has been the speed (or lack thereof) of our nation’s economic recovery. Romney’s team should have wanted this message to be given the widest possible audience at a time closest to the election.

Two things prevented this course of action. First, Romney was not in sole control of the topics to be discussed at the debates. Second, Romney entered into the general election season behind in the polls; consequently he needed to make up ground and used his most potent attack (the economy) to do so.

Because Romney was not in sole control of deciding which topics would be debated and when, his team had to negotiate with Obama’s. This led to Romney finding himself with his strongest argument for becoming president being presented over a month before election day. Contrarily, Obama will be able to tout his foreign policy triumphs a little over two weeks before the election.

But even supposing Romney did have complete control, he still would have had to consider beginning the debates with his strongest topic because of the deficit he seemed to face according to polls. Partly because of his statements while campaigning for the Republican nomination, and partly because of Obama’s ability to connect with ordinary people Romney needed something that would help him connect with the average Joe. Faced with the prospect of Obama building an insurmountable lead, Romney needed to use the economy to make his case for being president.

The first debate served this purpose for Romney, the poll numbers have been virtually even. But now the liabilities of this course of action become more apparent. The format of the second presidential debate will be a town-hall style where the candidates will field questions from the audience about foreign and domestic issues. This benefits Obama more than Romney.

The third presidential debate will again be moderated by a professional journalist and cover foreign policy alone. This is when Obama will hammer home the fact that he ended the United States’ war against Iraq as he promised when campaigning four years ago. This is when he will highlight how the United States helped to institute democratic change during the Arab Spring of 2011. Obama could do well with audiences during this debate by repeating three words the entire night: Osama bin Laden. It would take every American embassy being attacked to negate the previous three statements.

Romney acquitted himself very well during the first debate. But he had the desperation of knowing it could make or break this presidential race and the advantage of talking about the economy. Neither of those advantages will exist in the next two debates.

Romney played his highest card and it worked. But he played it early. Now he has to play defense.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.