Where’s the Vision? – The Second Presidential Debate

First thoughts – they both came to play. President Obama and Governor Romney were contentious, confrontive, strong, and articulate. If you favored one guy, he won.

But the audience lost.




So many conflicting stories. Even the fact checkers are conflicted. I guess the best offense is a good defense. So we won’t talk specific issues here, but behavior, because as usual, Behavior Reigns.

Rising above the issues and arguments – there were so many opportunities to cast a vision. To lift the audience up. Neither candidate took the opportunity. In our communications coaching we always urge our clients to think BENEFITS – what’s in it for the listener. Both Obama and Romney kept it all about THEM. In different ways…



He recovered from the first debate. More energy, combative and interruptive where appropriate. (And maybe where not appropriate for a President.)

On the positives, several times he had rhetorical flourishes that were typical in his 2008 campaign. He moved around well, had good eye contact with Moderator Candy Crowley. And he reviewed the VP Debate split screen when sitting and listening as he did not pull a “Biden” by smirking and eye rolling when Romney was speaking (though there were a couple of ‘slow blinks.’)

On the negative side, his cadence often gets in the way of believability. Too often we feel it is a ‘speech’ rather than the authentic thoughts and feelings of a man – our President. And when you add to that the tilt of his serious face – those who dislike him would say arrogance – we don’t feel the likability that the polls show.



He continued his behavioral performance from the first debate – confident and assured in manner and voice.

On the positives, he often used the ‘rule of three,’ and had a great command of facts and figures. He often said “We don’t have to settle for this” and “We don’t have to live like this.” Romney again held himself like a CEO, and the Town Hall format gave him a chance to ‘stride’ without being stiff and jerky, as he often is. Many said he wouldn’t relate in the Town Hall setting, but he did just fine with that, as did Obama.

On the negative side, Romney asked direct questions of Obama rather than making statements AT Obama. When we rehearse executives in Q&A, we advise ending on a positive statement of your Point Of View, rather than an open ended question at an adversary. This happened several times, and Romney looked defensive as Obama parried him – and particularly rattled with the Benghazi question at the end, where Romney lost a big opportunity to make an important point. (I expect we’ll hear more on this in the days to come.)


So what…

No clear winner here, and the beat goes on. This will be a tight race to the wire, with only a sliver of folks undecided. There will be two factors that will sway those undecided:

  1. Who they believe – so much mud slinging and accusations of lying on both sides make trust and believability a tough issue. And behavior and likability will go a long way in determining that.
  2. A mis-step – if either Obama or Romney is caught in a real untruth or situation that rises above the cacophony of charges and countercharges, that could trump behavior.


So next weeks debate could be telling – we’ll see.

4 comments on “Where’s the Vision? – The Second Presidential Debate

  1. Rosemarie, Rich, & Nate – thanks for you comments! Let’s all hope next week’s debate rises above and shows us that vision. Both of them coming off presidential will be very important – and it’s amazing how a large portion of how we read into that is in their behaviors. Anxiously waiting…

  2. Great analysis Ben, I totally agree. Both candidates are so good at attacking each other, that it’s making these debates feel like a race to see who can spit out the most talking points.
    In a day and age when anyone can pay a Think Tank to produce the facts and figures they want, it’s incredibly important for a speaker to take a break from the rhetoric and speak from the heart.
    When we media train people we make a very concerted effort to find the spokesperson’s point of view, and then allow them to use that point of view as their core message. If you believe in something, it’s far easier to put facts and figures aside and speak from the heart, when you need to.
    Little devices and phrases like, “at the end of the day, I believe this…, which is why I want to do that…” give spokespeople the ability to ground themselves in their core values and explain what they believe, in simple terms.
    Undecided voters are the ones who matter here. And, I don’t think winning the undecided vote can be accomplished by beating each other over the head with facts and figures, and then telling the audience, “we’ll let the fact checkers sort it out.”

  3. Excellent analysis as always. I called it a ‘push’, which to me gives a slight victory to the President. Great catches on the slow eye blinks for Obama and the rule of three for Romney.

  4. You are so right, Ben. I, too, was disappointed in the style of the debate — challenges and accusations rather than visions of where we can go as a country…and, more importantly, how. In my eyes, neither candidate appeared as presidential as they could have.