What does President Obama have in common with Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan R. Jessup, besides the fact that Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is open under both of them? Each man has a huge ego, capable of bringing his career crashing down.

Mitt Romney has a slew of big debates coming up — the biggest of his life — and he needs to win. With early voting in many states, candidates don’t have the luxury to really “come from behind” any more.  A lot will be determined on election day, but with almost 40% of voters expected to have cast their ballot by Nov. 6, candidates need to be on their game as much as possible. If Mitt Romney wants to win his debates, he will use Tom Cruise’s strategy from ‘A Few Good Men.’ Lt. Daniel Kaffe played to Col. Jessup’s ego, and the world had its “You can’t handle the truth” moment. Likewise, every chance Romney has to goad President Obama’s massive ego into the open, he should take it.

Shortly after I mentioned this strategy to a coworker, I came across a piece by Politico that essentially said the same thing:

Obama is an experienced debater but an inconsistent performer who is years out of practice, capable of projecting a calm, commanding image — or appearing bored, testy or condescending enough to snark out the unforgettable “You’re likeable enough, Hillary” crack four years ago. …

“This is not a guy who can hide his contempt, and the only thing that can really hurt is if he’s smug and thinks he’s got this in the bag,” said a Democrat close to the Obama campaign.

President Obama is an intelligent guy, and he’s tough to pin down. He’s the master of the straw man and the false dichotomy, and he always has a healthy supply of red herrings at the ready. While he now has a record that Romney will expose in ways only Univision has come close to (and that’s not counting its Fast and Furious coverage), Romney would be wise to systematically set the stage for a “you didn’t build that” or a “spread the wealth around” or a “there are plenty of smart people” moment.

Because President Obama is a True Believer that only Eric Hoffer could appreciate, Romney should find ways to get Obama to defend the basic tenets of liberalism, as opposed to random tit-for-tat stats over yearly deficits or Obamacare provisions. Obama is extremely tough to pin down on public policy specifics because he knows how to play professor, but it’s a lot harder for him to hide when he must defend or shun liberalism.

President Obama, whether conservatives like it or not, is a “likeable guy” to many Americans. Attacking him personally isn’t going to work. What will work is to expose his core beliefs — the things that drive him — because when he does that there is a high probability he will sink himself. Remember when President Obama said: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism”? He still believes that, and while he would word it very differently if forced to discuss the issue again, there are other telling quotes that are just waiting for Mitt Romney to tease out.

If Mitt Romney is smart, he will lay a large trap with a trigger mechanism that is activated by President Obama’s massive ego.

If Mitt Romney follows the strategy employed by Cruise’s Lt. Daniel Kaffe, I believe one of his debates will include Obama’s “you can’t handle the truth” moment. Make it happen, Mitt. The 2012 election is riding on it.


About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

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