Debate Season Opens

Seth Masket previews Wednesday's presidential debate:

My impression is that the debate is a higher-stakes event for Romney. He is trailing pretty significantly in the recent polls, and given how few people are still available to convert and that voting has already begun in some states, he doesn't have a lot of time to change things around. And if he's going to change things around, the first debate — which will likely have the largest audience of any political event this fall — is the time to do it. Obama, conversely, can win by not losing. So while both men are pretty careful and cautious debaters and not given to particularly rash outbursts, I'd guess that Romney will take a few chances on Wednesday and generally be the aggressor.

Shafer sees the debates as elaborate rituals:

Part theatrical performance, part quiz show, part fencing match, part transition ceremony, the words and gestures of the 2012 debates will be picked over with tweezers by the TV commentariat as soon as the candidates’ microphones go dead. They’ll struggle to locate the momentum and import in the 90 minutes just passed, they’ll scrutinize the gaffes and they’ll even rate the moderator. Like all widely observed rituals and ceremonies – baptisms, weddings, funerals, the World Cup – the presidential debates open themselves to mockery. But the public craving for pageants and contests will not be stilled by our contempt and sarcasm. We can crack the debates’ code, but we can’t rewrite it.