In other words, he needs to NOT be himself. Via The Politico (bolded emphasis added by me) :
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.
The debates didn’t sink him in 2008 — they were probably a net plus taken as a whole, his staffers believe — but this time around Obama’s bedrock political asset is his likeability and capacity to bond with middle-class voters. Hence the unwritten rule in debate prep sessions against Sen. John Kerry, Romney’s stand-in: Hold your ground, but no more sneers.
“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, echoing the sentiments of several other aides and advisers heading into Wednesday’s inaugural debate against Romney at the University of Denver.
“When he was leading [in 2008], he viewed the [debate] process as an unnecessary exercise that could get him off track,” Singer added. “He’s in a similar place at this point in the race. Romney needs him to trip — not just a little stumble but something really big. The president is very well-equipped to avoid doing that, thanks to living in the fish bowl 24/7 for the last four years.”
In 2008, he did that only once, offering the infamous “likeable enough” comment at a face-off with Clinton just before the 2008 New Hampshire primary that many in his camp blame for his stunning loss to her a few days later. It was a serious mistake that gave a flailing Clinton campaign new life — and left a mark on Obama’s team.
The stakes are even higher this time. So, unfortunately for the president’s team, is Obama’s level of contempt for his opponent — his feeling for the Massachusetts governor borders on disdain. Team Obama has faith in their candidate’s discipline, but there are concerns his attitude could lead to another Al Gore eye-rolling or George H.W. Bush watch-peering episode.
“He can’t be a bigger d—k than Romney,” summed up the Democratic insider, familiar with the preparations.
Uh, yeah. To say the least.
This is something anyone who paid close attention to the 2007-2008 Democrat primary battles between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama noticed quickly – even though the prObama mainstream media, unsurprisingly, didn’t report much in the way about it. It wasn’t just the quick-answer style of the debating format that irked then-candidate Obama. It was questions he didn’t feel like he should have to answer – period. He seemed to take it personally when questions were asked of him either at debates, on the campaign trail, or at the rare press conference that he felt he should have been above having to dignify responding to. Such questions and concerns, he would say, were nothing more than mere “distractions” and should be pushed to the side so we (he) could focus on “the bigger picture” … of trying to get elected without anyone knowing much about who he was.
While it is true most politicos would prefer not to answer any question they can’t spin into a positive, the then-candidate took the sneering over the questioning of his political record, his educational background, his personal and spiritual history, and his work experience to epic levels not seen by other candidates in modern-day history. Remember when he called one female journalist “sweetie” and one press conference where he made a hasty exit after just a few questions, stating to an uptight Chicago media, “I’ve already taken like 7 questions” (paraphrasing)?
None of that has changed over the course of his time as President.
So, indeed, Obama will be his biggest enemy at the debates – much like Gore when facing off against Bush. This is something Mitt Romney will need to try and exploit at their first debate on Wednesday, and judging by his calm, cool, and collected demeanor at the GOP debates and his ability to keep fellow debate opponents on topic when it comes to the critical issues, I think he can do it.