The president became the challenger and the challenger became the Commander-in Chief.
If you turn down the sound and just watch the body language in the third debate, it is clear Romney has become the calm, authoritative leader and Obama has become the aggressive, intense challenger.
This is a remarkable turn of events.
People who score these events as debates miss the far larger drama which surrounds them.
Mike Deaver, President Ronald Reagan’s communications adviser, used to watch events with the sound off. Television, he asserted, was 85 percent visual, 10 percent tone of voice, and only 5 percent what you actually say.
Reagan and Romney had a similar challenge in taking on an incumbent president with a weak record. Many people wanted a change but they felt a president is so central to our national survival that they needed reassurance that the challenger would be calm and stable.
Both Reagan and Romney had reassurance, a focus on peace not war, and a tone of stable competence as a major goal in their debates.
David Gergen captured Romney’s achievement in the third debate when he said Romney had passed the Commander-in-Chief test. People left the debate feeling Romney was capable of dealing with global realities and with regional complexities.
Some partisans wanted Romney to be more aggressive, but that would have violated his strategic goal.
It is very important in settings like a presidential debate to remember why you are there and what you are trying to accomplish.
These are not college debate sessions with points scored by debate judges based on debate criterion.
These are political events designed to gain votes.
Read the full column