What now, Ms. Hughes? Mr. Rove?
I think we're all agreed that Kerry won the debate. Not only did he put in a great performance, but also Bush put in a terrible performance. Kerry's victory over Bush is so clear as to be almost unspinnable. The GOP has been reduced to a choice between desperate looking denial ("the credibility gap is now a credibility canyon") or pathetic looking silly spin ("Kerry had bad eye contact with the audience").
Even though the debate was surprisingly well watched, one debate victory isn't going to change a lot of votes. Most voters are firmly enough committed at this point that seeing their candidate speak in the voice of Satan himself (for which, see previous post) would not be enough to change their minds. The smaller, but more desirable, group leans toward or against one candidate or the other, but still hasn't committed. The smallest group is genuinely uncommitted. In the middle group, the ones most likely to be convinced by this one debate will be those who were already leaning toward Kerry or against Bush. Those leaning the other way were simply thrown into confusion. This is cognitive dissonance; reality failed to confirm their gut feelings. At this point they are actively looking for something to either re-confirm their previous leanings or nail down the new reality. They would prefer the former.
This is the essence of the problem of the Bush campaign going into the next two debates. They need to pull back as many of those wavering people as they can. Kerry's performance was so clearly superior to Bush's, that spin alone has very little chance of repairing the damage. Bush has to perform in the next two debates.
Ironically, the St. Louis town-hall style debate might be Bush’s best chance to recover. Bush spends most of time isolated in a happy land where no one ever questions him or asks a question that he isn't fully prepared and practiced to answer (at least, no one that he can't fire on the spot). Impromptu should be the worst style for Bush, but it gives Rove the best opportunity to send in ringers with the campaign's desired questions. Left Blogistan should be prepared to do a real time background check of every questioner to expose this possibility.
Barring the possibility of Rove fixing the results of the St. Louis debate, their next best chance will be for Hughes to completely retrain their candidate before the final debate. She only has two weeks and part of that time will be taken up by the second debate, campaign appearances, and being leader of the free world. Though, since he's never felt he has to spend a lot of time on that last one, I can’t see why he would suddenly start now.
So what will Karen do? Her boy didn't just fail on one count; he failed across the board. His body language was rude, inappropriate, and more than a little scary. His attempt to stay on theme led him to noticeably repeat the same phrases over and over like a broken record. He was obviously annoyed to even be there. She's going to need to work on his temper, his physical demeanor, and the quality of his answers. She'll need to teach him to actually listen and not just respond to cues. She needs to do all this in a couple days. If you were Karen, which would you focus on?
If you were us, and I assume you are, what would you do to disrupt her re-training. Don't just sit there reading; go do it.