No Hermain Cain. No Newt Gingrich. No Michele Bachmann. Tonight in Denver, the tightly controlled humanoids Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will take the stage and try desperately not to mess up. Moderated by the oldest, safest, whitest debate veteran in the business, the face-off is scripted in a way that minimizes spontaneity, leaving pundits and campaign spin-masters to mine slight gestures and dissect phrasing to declare a winner. As detailed in the New York Times this morning, the rules of the contest are such that there will likely be no fireworks, not even the likes of which we saw during the interminable Republican primary debates, when at least the candidates could drop applause lines like bombs and abuse the host for the blood-thirsty audience's amusement:
There will be no rigid time limits, buzzers or cheering that often threatened to turn the Republican primary debates into a recurring political game show. The debate will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes, with ample opportunity for robust exchanges and a level of specificity that both sides have often sought to avoid.
In other words, things could get dull. The Times goes on to note, "Both candidates will come to the debate armed with well-practiced one-liners, the moments they hope will become sound bites that will shape the narrative in the days to come." Whose zingers are more zing-y? Tune in tonight! (With low expectations.)
"The challenge for both men in the debate, to be moderated by Jim Lehrer," this preview states, "will be to enliven the conversation with fresh details, rather than offering a line-by-line replay of the campaign so far." Holding one's breath for that cannot be recommended. While the night's theme is the economy, Libya and Hampton University are just a quip away.
Even the finale is accounted for: Because of a coin toss, Obama will speak first and Romney will close the show. "Their respective campaign representatives have spent days on details as small as how many family members can take the stage after the debate," the Times reports, "a sign that almost nothing will be left to chance." And for one night, the nation will miss Rick Perry.