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We'd Rather lose 3 times than win twice.

Time Magazine has an interesting story that explains why Bush at first said he wanted only 2 debates then later seemingly caved and accepted 3 debates. It was all part of the negotiations....

When a race for President gets this close, no detail is too small to leave to chance. Which is how it happened that a man who once oversaw Middle East peacemaking found himself haggling last week with one of Washington's most storied power players over the matter of ... colored lights. The proposal: to allow the millions of Americans watching this Thursday's first presidential debate to see the warning signal whenever George Bush or John Kerry has exceeded his allotted time to answer a question. It was a transparent gambit by the President's representative, former Secretary of State James Baker, to raise the famously windy challenger's chances for embarrassment. "Undignified," sniffed a Kerry strategist. "It's like a game show."

But Kerry's negotiator, lawyer Vernon Jordan, gave in—just as he had to Baker's earlier demand that the lecterns be an unimposing 50 in. tall and that they be placed fully 10 ft. apart, making it less likely that the 5-ft. 11-in. Bush will look miniaturized in comparison with the 6-ft. 4-in. Kerry. ...

The Bush camp, knowing television viewership falls off after the first debate, made sure this week's matchup would focus on foreign policy, which they feel is the President's strong suit. Team Bush has studied old videotapes of Kerry's 1996 Massachusetts Senate re-election campaign debates to the point where advisers like Karl Rove can recite portions from memory. As a result, Bush's negotiators insisted on banning nearly all the stagecraft Kerry had used to devastating effect against his G.O.P. opponent, Governor William Weld, such as roaming from the lectern and asking direct questions. ...

But if Kerry is at his rhetorical best when he's feeling the heat, it's not the only thing the Bush camp has noticed about him. Even as Kerry was turning the tables on Weld over the death penalty, he kept wiping a dribble of perspiration that was creeping from his right temple to his eye. "He's a sweater," chortles a G.O.P. official, "and women don't like sweaters." That's why Bush's team was happy to have the Kerry campaign climb down from its demand that the debate hall be chilled to below 70 degrees. The Jordan-Baker agreement stipulates that the debate commission use "best efforts to maintain an appropriate temperature according to industry standards." Whatever those are. ...

But Cahill concedes that Kerry's chances—and those of the debate moderators—will be limited by the Bush campaign's insistence that follow-up questions and rebuttals be sharply restricted. ...

After a laundry list of things the Bush team got, what did the Kerry team get out of the negotiations?

What Kerry's camp got were three debates rather than the two that Bush's campaign initially said it wanted. Getting three contests "was much more important to us than any detail of the format," says Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill.

They'd rather lose 3 times than win twice. Who is running this campaign? Would the Green Bay Packers agree bench Brett Favre for the Super Bowl so they could play best 2 out of 3? It just doesn't make sense to give up that many tactical advantages.

The other thing Kerry lost in the negotiations was that he has to debate 3 times. Every time he gets any press he goes down in the polls. The more people see of him, the less they like him. All things considered, it sounds like the Dems got taken for a ride.

The only thing worse would be if Bush got him to agree to play a few minutes of touch football.

Update below the fold

Update: The Right Moment has the agreement and Spoons makes an interesting point in the comments. He says I failed to mention that Bush gave up his demand for ditching the town hall style debate.

I touched on that in the first paragraph but let me expand on it. I never believed Bush wanted to ditch the town hall meetings... or at least I knew that he knew, he would never get away with that. That whole issue was a bargaining chip. In the modern era, no candidate will ever be able to get rid of that format no matter how insipid. Bush came out and said 2 debates and Kerry gave him every card in his hand to get the last debate back. It was tactically moronic because Kerry could have gone to the media and the media would have made Bush put back the town hall style debate.

That is sort of my point. Everyone asked why Bush caved. Now we know he played a bluff perfectly. At the risk of sounding like a partisan hack, considering the existing political realities, I see this as a near grand slam for Bush.

If you think otherwise, lemme know but I just don't see anything good for Kerry so far.


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Comments (17)

I don't doubt for one minut... (Below threshold)
Jim:

I don't doubt for one minute that the MSM will claim Kerry won the debate no matter what happens on Thursday. I wouldn't be surprised if the news stories about the debate are written BEFORE the debate. And I understand why the don't want Kerry walking over to Bush in the midst of the debate. Algore tried that and he looked my a rabid stalker during his debate with Dubya.

One thing wrong with this l... (Below threshold)
Bruce:

One thing wrong with this line of reasoning -- Bush has never lost a debate. And with the credibility of the MSM in the tank right now, they can declare anything they want and it won't necessarily fly.

If there's one thing and on... (Below threshold)
-S-:

If there's one thing and one thing only that will boost Bush even farther in the perceptions of many Americans, it is to let Kerry do what Kerry does "best" and that is to discredit Kerry.

I'm actually amazed that Bush has the capacity to wait out this guy, who does so require being waited out. The timing lights are a great plan.

Another thing: having the ... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Another thing: having the Bush Interview by O'Reilly -- The O'Reilly Factor every evening on FOX -- running Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, followed Thursday night by this first Presidential debate, is an interesting and effective means to present Bush counter to Kerry's anticipated Thursday night charade. Hopefully, interested voters will have had a chance to become more familiarized with Bush through the three night O'Reilly interview and will be able to discern more quickly when and whenever Kerry starts spinnin' the liberal memes on Thursday.

I'm wondering if Bush will bring up Kerry's fondness for his "Chinese rifle." That'd be so sweet.

"Would the Green Bay Packer... (Below threshold)

"Would the Green Bay Packers agree bench Brett Favre for the Super Bowl "

It depends. Are they playing at Lambert Field?

I think all the bloggers sh... (Below threshold)
Bruce:

I think all the bloggers should start looking now for a morose picture of Kerry. Then, on the day after the elections, hundreds of blogs should post the picture with the caption, "Awwwww, why the long face?" It would be historic. And it would quite possibly drive him out of the spotlight forever.

You omit the biggest thing ... (Below threshold)

You omit the biggest thing Bush gave up: he agreed to the town-hall-style debate. That's why having 3 is crucial to the Kerry campaign. The one that Bush was trying to get out of is the town-hall thing. Those are notoriously bad for conservatives.

"Would the Green Bay Pac... (Below threshold)
drew:

"Would the Green Bay Packers agree bench Brett Favre for the Super Bowl"

If they are playing in a dome I would say yes.

I still think Bush could ha... (Below threshold)

I still think Bush could have, and should have, avoided the town-hall fiasco. He would have taken some bad press, but I think it would have been worth it. Bush did do one clever thing, though, by changing the format so that the debate will not be full of so-called "undecideds" (i.e., liars and fools), and rather will be full of people "leaning" one way or the other.

This is like Final Jeopardy... (Below threshold)
mcg:

This is like Final Jeopardy. The guy who has less money has to bet it all. No sense in playing conservative when you're in second place. So I guess the Kerry campaign feels they need to win at least two debates to pull out of their current deficit. With three debates, they have a better chance of it.

We need to remember W's rep... (Below threshold)
ScottJ:

We need to remember W's reputation for skill at poker while at Yale. Seems some of his extra curricular college education was valuable after all.

Seems some of his extra ... (Below threshold)
KBiel:

Seems some of his extra curricular college education was valuable after all.

Thank and his proclivity for heavy drinking. I think he's going to need to fall off of the wagon to put with Kerry's "Are You Questioning My Patriotism" whining through three debates. I know I plan on drinking heavily to get through the debates.

My guess is that the Democr... (Below threshold)
David C:

My guess is that the Democrats are thinking 3 is better than 2, because it's an aspect of their insulated coccoon mindset. As they see it, their real task is to make the American people see the obvious - that Kerry's up against the evil moronic Chimpy McSmirkHitler. I think it's kinda like the old miniseries "V". The aliens looked just like us, and seemed nice and friendly and everything... but they were really just lizardy bad guys in human masks out to steal our water and eat us. And it all was going so well for the bad guys until the head alien got his mask ripped off on live television....

They can't fathom why people don't already see Smirky McChimpster's true face, but, hell, he's an evil moronic fascist chimp, so one more debate and one more chance for Darth Rove's evil tricks to fail and Bushitler to be exposed, that's good.

You know when we'll know? ... (Below threshold)

You know when we'll know? We'll know as soon as Saturday Night Live does their skit on the debate. We KNOW they're going to make W look stupid, it's their only joke there, but what will matter is how they make Kerry look. If he comes off as large a condescending jerk as Veep Gore did, he's toast.

The Daily Show will be another place to look, perhaps even better since SNL seems to be dying again.

Comedy as a political barometer? Surely you jest? No, and don’t call me Shirley.

While the pundits pontificate and analyze and break apart every nuance, the comedians will simply go for the funny.

And how do you find the funny? As Bernie Sahlins used to say back when he ran Second City Chicago, “Find the biggest asshole…and spear him.”

Timmer has a great point ,.... (Below threshold)
Tom:

Timmer has a great point ,. If the liberal comedy shows rip Kerry, it will dishearten the faithful and they will lose the last vestige of interest in the campaign, because being for Kerry is not cool, and you know, Bush Sucks... But the comedy shows will have no impact on the Republican and independent voters, because Bush is expected to be ripped on those shows.

That might explain Kerry's going on Letterman and The Daily Show as a pre-emptive attack to mitigate the damage from the debates.

This is another portent of ... (Below threshold)
UpNights:

This is another portent of the talents of a Kerry administration. Think how well they'd do with domestic politics (well -- you could also look at Kerry's 20 years of accomplishment in the Senate for that) and international diplomacy! Good thing the next President will not have to face such tough customers; what are the mullahs compared to James Baker?

If they were so stuck on getting three debates, that indicates that they are sure that Kerry will win them. We'll see how that works out for them.

This is another portent of ... (Below threshold)
UpNights:

This is another portent of the talents of a Kerry administration. Think how well they'd do with domestic politics (well -- you could also look at Kerry's 20 years of accomplishment in the Senate for that) and international diplomacy! Good thing the next President will not have to face such tough customers; what are the mullahs compared to James Baker?

If they were so stuck on getting three debates, that indicates that they are sure that Kerry will win them. We'll see how that works out for them.




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