As a teacher, it is clear which students show up to class having done their homework. Last night, Mitt Romney was that student who not only did his homework, but also did the extra homework review. Hard work does pay off and in my book he gets an A+. Now, the President was like one of those students you know is bright but that showed up to the test thinking he could wing it. But winging it either in the classroom or a presidential debate doesn’t get you much more than a C+. Last night Romney not only did his homework but had the classroom behavior that any teacher loves—confidence and respect. In contrast, the President was not the star student last night, but there’s still time in the semester.
The Mitt Romney that showed up last night was the “turn around” expert. He was the kid that had the reputation of being a good student but had recently been struggling. A core part of Romney’s narrative is that he is the guy that can right the ship. He can take failing businesses or in the case of the Winter Olympics, a failing program, and bring about success. However, until last night, his turn around pitch for the economy had not gained traction. Mitt Romney not only turned around his flailing campaign at the debate, he once again made his Mr. Fix It brand a central component of this election.
The Barack Obama that showed up last night was the same that spoke to the Democratic National Committee Convention earlier this year in Charlotte. But the crucial difference is that in Charlotte, like in high school debates, the President got to tap out and sub his partner—Bill Clinton. Last night, there was no Clinton to make up for Obama’s lack of preparation.
Elections like grades are determined not just by a single homework assignment or debate. There are still two more presidential debates and one vice presidential debate to go before final grades are turned in. The President needs to hunker down and start prepping. For the upcoming town hall debate the President needs to ask President Clinton if he can see his study notes from the 1992 town hall where Bill Clinton mopped the floor with President George H. W. Bush and Ross Perot. The town hall format will favor President Obama since he is naturally the better connector. But, his natural knack for connecting with people is no excuse for not burning the midnight oil and prepping non- stop. And coming up on the last debate covering foreign policy the President needs to turn last night’s C+ performance into a solid A.
Mitt Romney has gained momentum. But the danger to his A+ performance in Denver is that he slacks on the next two performances. The downside to big wins is that they can make us over-confident. He needs to put his head to the grindstone and work harder than he did in the first one. If Mitt Romney wants to finish the semester with the best grade he needs to make up for a whole bunch of earlier low grades, like that 47% mark, and ace the last two exams.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino and MSNBC contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.