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 12:15 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT