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Karl Rove to Candidates: 'Viewers Looking for Real Person, Not Performer'

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By    |   Wednesday, 29 Jul 2015 09:52 PM

Republican strategist Karl Rove, reflecting on past presidential debates, is lending some advice to the GOP candidates who'll face-off for the first time Aug. 6: Keep the message tight, and light.

"In a debate like this, candidates must convey — in word, tone and demeanor — two or three things they want us to remember," Rove writes in a Wall Street Journal commentary posted Wednesday night.

"If they don’t have a narrative or do a poor job of sharing it, that’s their fault, not the viewers’."

The debate will be in Cleveland, and sponsored by Fox News and Facebook, and will feature the 10 top-polling Republican candidates on the stage during primetime; the remaining hopefuls will debate earlier in the day.

Rove predicts the moderators —Fox News’s Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace — will ask "serious questions about consequential topics."

"Glib only goes so far," he warns. "Humor, particularly if it is self-deprecating, is among the most powerful tools."

For example, Rove recalls President Ronald Reagan's October 1984 debate with Democratic challenger Walter Mondale.

"Critics had made Reagan’s age — he was 73 — into a campaign issue favoring Mr. Mondale, who was a sprightly 56," Rove notes. "Reagan dismissed the matter with a joke: 'I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.' The crowd and Mr. Mondale laughed. It looked easy. It wasn’t."

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And don't be arrogant or condescending, he cautions, recalling then-Sen. Barack Obama's comment in the January 2008 primary debate in New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton, who was asked to respond to voters who didn't find her likable.

"[B]ut Mr. Obama interjected: 'You're likable enough, Hillary.' That told us more about him than her," Rove writes.

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Other past-debate moments also offer some guidance, he says.

In the January 2012 GOP primary debate in Tampa, Mitt Romney suggested illegal immigration could be solved in part through "self-deportation."

He won just 27 percent of Hispanic voters in the November election that year, Rove notes.

But Romney scored big in a January 2012 primary debate in Jacksonville, when he soundly pushed back at attacks on his wealth, saying, "I have earned the money that I have. I didn’t inherit it,"

Rove notes, and "the crowd cheered."

"Appearing confident, comfortable, reassuring and knowledgeable can be every bit as important as saying the right things," Rove writes. "Viewers are looking for a real person, not a performer."

Rove writes that in 2000, when Vice President Al Gore tried "intimidating" then-Gov. George W. Bush during their first debate by walking into his space on stage, "he was being himself."

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"So was the Texas governor when he paused for an instant, nodded at Mr. Gore and offered a knowing grin to the audience," writes Rove, who later served as a former deputy chief of staff. "Game, set, match."

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Republican strategist Karl Rove, reflecting on past presidential debates, is lending some advice to the GOP candidates who'll face-off for the first time Aug. 6: Keep the message tight, and light. In a debate like this, candidates must convey - in word, tone and demeanor -...
karl rover, debate, advice, gop, candidates, keep, message, tight, light
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2015-52-29
Wednesday, 29 Jul 2015 09:52 PM
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