While the press and punditry class go about setting expectations for Mitt Romney to a stratospheric level and taking them below sea level for the president, is there anyone who honestly believes Mitt Romney can perform in a way that will win over the mainstream media? Do you honestly expect to turn on ABC News and find George Stephanopolis framing the debate as a massive win for the Republican candidate? Is there any piece of you that expects to see Diane Sawyer gush and swoon, Brian Williams marvel at the former Massachusettes skills or Anderson Cooper methodically deconstruct any real flaws from President Obama?
I don’t expect to see the Daily Show packing punches for the president. Sure Saturday Night Live will poke a few jabs but they will always be hits to the president that still make him likeable while their evisceration of Romney will be packed with seering stabs. The debate will be framed, no matter how it goes, as a win for Obama.
There is only one possible outcome that will go Romney’s way. A declaration of a tie. I can picture the media saying “Barack Obama was off his game tonight, but viewers didn’t see much competition from his opponent. Both candidates failed to defy expectations.” It will seem like a win, as if the tables are now equal like the polls. It will be a setup though, the “rise like a phoenix” layup the media loves. Lower the expectations from debate one so that the narrative will become “look how he overcame them” for the next debate. It won’t be a win for Romney, just a tie until the next one. A way to keep the race even, the ad dollars flowing and the expectations established for the next round.
I hope I am proven wrong but I doubt I will be. I cannot fathom a scenario in which Romney is declared, by members of the mainstream press, as the victor. Even if Romney performs, there will be some way of framing it as a loss. Some artificial measure he didn’t hit, some statement that will be twisted ten different ways.
Pessimistic? Yes. Realistic? Most definitely.