Political and media consultant Michael Murphy thinks that the MSM is about to “write a big October comeback story for John Kerry.” Murphy predicts that President Bush will do well in Thursday’s debate, but that the “expectations game and the comback narrative will combine, through the media’s funhouse mirror, to put Kerry back in the race, even though it may ultimately be simply an optical illusion.”
I don’t necessarily discount this scenario. However, Kerry will be in a tough position on Thursday night. As far as I can tell, he has two options on Iraq — some sort of “yes but” approach or a strident, pessimistic approach. The former approach will reinforce his image as indecisive and provide voters with a less than compelling reason to change leaders. The second approach will cast Kerry as a negative, unlikeable whiner. An attempt to combine the approaches — which is what the always nuanced Kerry will want to do — is probably the worst thing he could do.
Debate audiences tend to perceive what they want to perceive and believe what they want to believe. Right now, there are two plausible narratives with respect to Iraq. One is that we’re facing tough times, but making progress and have a good chance of succeeding. The other is that we’re in a quaqmire, with little hope of success, and that we’re less safe as a result. Most voters want to believe the first narrative and, other things being even close to equal, will think that the candidate who offers that narrative has won the debate. A candidate who offers the equivalent of the soldier sinking in quicksand image used in that pro-Kerry ad will likely find himself sinking in quicksand.
In this scenario, the media nonetheless can write a “big Kerry comeback” story, but it’s doubtful that such a story would put Kerry back in the race.
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