Mitt Romney's debate 'zingers': Will he be able to deliver?

The press corps is eagerly anticipating Mitt Romney's promised zingers at Wednesday night's debate. Comedians have also been having some fun imagining what the candidate might say.

David Goldman/AP
A shadow is cast across the stage as a stand-in for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the podium during a rehearsal for Wednesday night's debate at the University of Denver, Tuesday.

Reporters will be watching for many things at Wednesday night’s debate. But, hands down, the most eagerly anticipated element has got to be: Mitt Romney’s zingers.

You see, recently, a Romney aide told The New York Times that the candidate was busy preparing “zingers” for his debate against President Obama.

Since then, the anticipation (and, yes, the mockery) has gone into overdrive.

“Zingers. Because Americans need to know that their leader has a well-honed sense of zing,” deadpanned Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night’s “Colbert Report.” “On Day 1, our new president must be able to face Iran’s leader – and ask him if the place where he bought that shirt also has a men’s department.”

In The Washington Post, columnist Alexandra Petri asked: "Does anyone else have this vivid image of Mitt Romney in a bunker carefully committing schoolyard taunts to memory?"

The challenge, of course, is that Mr. Romney has not exactly shown himself to be a zinger-ish kind of guy. So far, his most memorable lines from the campaign trail have all tended to fall more in the “gaffe” category. Like his recorded remarks about the 47 percent. Or his spontaneous offer of a $10,000 bet to Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)

In The New Yorker, Nathaniel Stein imagined Romney’s debate preparations:

ROMNEY: I have some ideas for more zingers. How about, “I hate being able to fire people!”

AIDE: Hmm ... I like it, but I’m not quite sure if that’s right for the debate.

ROMNEY: No, you misheard me. “I hate being able to fire people.”

AIDE: No, I heard, but –

ROMNEY: O.K., here’s another. “You know what I just can’t get enough of? The forty-seven per cent of Americans who are blood-sucking victims. That’s the America I love.”

AIDE: Maybe we should stick to the list.

The truth is that Romney really could benefit from a good, well, zinger. He’s down in the polls – though not by a lot – so a debate win could go a long way toward helping him close the gap. And even more than a win, he could use one memorable “moment” (another overused word) that draws a big crowd reaction and sticks in voters’ minds. 

The problem, however, is that zingers are inherently risky. If they’re too transparently cooked up, or badly delivered, they’ll fall flat. Which would definitely be worse than no zinger at all.

Romney is capable of being funny. In recent remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative, after being introduced by former President Clinton, he drew genuine laughs when he said: "If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good. After that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce."

He also can deliver a forceful retort. During one GOP primary debate, when Governor Perry declared that former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than Romney, Romney came back with: “Well, as a matter of fact, George W. Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, governor.” At another debate, he delivered a punchy attack on former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, over his support for earmarks: “While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere.”

To some extent, we’ve begun wondering if all the discussion of zingers has made it almost impossible for any candidate to produce a good one. At this point, even the famous historic debate zingers – “I'm paying for this microphone,” “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” “Where’s the beef?” – have been replayed so many times that they’ve become clichéd.

So, the anticipation continues to build. Will Romney be able to deliver? Will his zingers be funny? Sarcastic? Painfully awkward?

Or will he, at this point, decide that he can’t possibly live up to all the hype – and forgo zingers altogether? It would probably be the safer option. The press corps, however, would be sorely disappointed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Mitt Romney's debate 'zingers': Will he be able to deliver?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today