Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Five ways Obama can bounce back

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
updated 10:49 AM EDT, Wed October 10, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
HIDE CAPTION
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
151
152
153
154
155
156
157
158
159
160
161
162
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171
172
173
174
175
176
177
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: It's the consensus that President Obama had a bad first debate
  • He says the president needs to take the debates more seriously but resist some advice
  • Rothkopf says people who urge Obama to attack Romney are making a mistake
  • He says Obama should take the high road, talk of big ideas for America's future

Editor's note: David Rothkopf is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy Magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

(CNN) -- Ok. There's no denying it. Barack Obama had a really, really bad debate. The New Yorker has ridiculed him on its cover. "Saturday Night Live" took its shots.

From Jon Stewart to David Letterman, the comedy community has worked the president's belly-flop from his podium at the University of Denver so hard that if you set up a joke with the words "Obama" and "debate" you don't even need a punchline.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

The results of the debate were not just a source of late-night hilarity either. Pollsters have also been worked up into a lather.

Romney's win was by an unprecedented margin. It helped close yawning gaps nationally, in swing states and among key groups like women. Pundits, depending on what flavor they were, wringed their hands or gloated. Wise men just shook their heads in knowing silence.

Opinion: Obama, Romney -- Ignore Afghanistan war at your own peril

So the question is what can the president do to rebound? Although the White House hasn't called me yet asking for tips, here's a few of the tidbits of advice I'd give if they did:

1. Panic

I know this is what everyone is telling you not to do. But, listen to me, they are the people who got you in trouble in the first place. By far the biggest benefit of getting clobbered in the debate is that it should be a wake-up call for you. Time to study up (like you didn't do last time). Time to stop believing your campaign's cartoonish characterizations of Romney. He's a real, formidable, guy. A serious opponent. Take him seriously this time.

2. Don't panic, nothing has changed

I got your attention with the line about panicking. But the reality is you have every reason to remain calm, starting with the fact that you are a preternaturally calm person. First, it was inevitable given your lead in the polls that you would be on the losing side of the expectations game and post-first debate spin. Next, you know as well as anyone that even after spending a billion on this campaign, you and Mitt Romney are going to end up with America roughly split as it was before this whole dog-and-pony show started.

Finally, you're still the president, and you still have everything going for you that you had going for you to begin with, from the good bits in your record to an electoral college and a shifting American demographic reality that will give you a healthy tailwind at the polls.

Clinton mocks Romney at rally
Durbin: President will succeed in race
Johnson on Obama's re-election chances
Mitt Romney speaks with Wolf Blitzer
Big Bird starring in new Obama ad

3. Show up

I don't just mean this in the sense that you should be there and mentally engaged in the next debate. Given Romney's win in the first debate, the natural story for the lazy ladies and gentlemen of the press will be to write about your comeback. I don't want to put too much pressure on you, but you are going to have to try really, really hard to screw up this next debate, at least.

4. Take the high road

Again, I know this is not what your brain trust is telling you. Well, it's not what many in the universe of your scared and angry supporters are calling for. Everyone is saying you should hit back hard. (No, I mean harder than the lame attacks on Romney for threatening to "fire" Big Bird.) Don't play that game.

What wins campaigns is offering the most optimistic, credible vision for the future. Don't be a self-hating Democrat. You have a strong record on many fronts. By all means emphasize your successes. But focus on the future.

Focus on big ideas for creating jobs, making America competitive, promoting growth and making us stronger from the inside out. Romney has turned his race around largely by letting people see that he's actually a good guy on many levels. Acknowledge it. Challenge him when he is misleading but don't get sucked into name calling. The facts matter much less than how you make people feel. (Sorry, it's true.) Just make sure people know you have a better vision for more people. And by people, I mean swing voters. The others have all made up their minds.

So, despite the temptations, veer away from the partisan. Americans want solutions, not more gridlock and name calling.

Opinion: Romney's foreign policy twilight zone

5. Try to avoid an October surprise

If you follow the four steps described above both in debates and on the road (and spend a lot of time in Ohio, Florida and Virginia) you will probably still win this thing. Of course, there's still time for some October (or early November) surprise that will be a game changer. But you're the president of the United States for goodness sake. You have some influence. Try to avoid disasters (on and off the debate stage), and you will soon be able to go back to grappling with the hardest problems in the world all day long.

For Gov. Romney, the advice is simpler. Keep doing what you did the other night. Well-prepared, moderate, likeable and presidential is not exactly a losing combination. But expect the next debates to be somewhat more challenging. It's highly likely the president of the United States will actually turn up the next couple of times around.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT