- Which side would succeed in "lowering expectations" for their own candidate (and, contrapositively, raising expectations for their opponent)
- The arcane and Byzantine ground rules for the debate, which would in any instance supposedly render the debate a sort of twin-alternating-press-conferences
- The Bush campaign team was actually at odds with itself in the lead-up to the debate: that is, the Bush team's raised-expectations/prosecuting-attorney/raised-his-whole-life-to-debate Kerry was conceptually incompatible with the Bush team's general-campaign-stump-speech/Flip-Flop Kerry. The Bush team, it seems, was gambling that the latter Kerry would show up. What they got was the former. Of course, they may not have even realized the incompatibility of these two conceptual Kerrys: witness Bush's stump speech remark this week that Master Debater Kerry "could probably spend 90 minutes debating himself." Basically, anyone who had only a glancing familiarity with the headlines, and/or who had been exposed to anti-Kerry attack ads and media coverage thereof, would not have recognized the "Debate Kerry" on stage last night.
- The Bush team may have outsmarted itself with their focus on and "winning of" the debate groundrules: they actually believed that what would have transpired last night would actually have been twin alternating press conferences. In fact, as many media and political analysts have been pointing out this morning, what we got actually did resemble an honest-to-gosh "debate." And that is precisely why Bush was alternately lost/stumbling and fuming/persnickety last night. The issue of Bush having been "cocooned" has been discussed a lot in the left commentariat the last month or so. The loyalty oaths at his campaign stops, the lack of press conferences, the inability to confront the actual situation on the ground in Iraq, the insulation by staffers, etc. And that surely played into Bush's surprise and irksomeness last night at being questioned directly by Kerry on his veracity and leadership. But the Confidence Man suspects that Bush's anger was less at Kerry per se than at Rove and his staff. Bush was obviously un- and underprepared for the structure of last night's debate as it actually transpired. That is the fault of Rove and the campaign staff -- and they may well have un- and underprepared their boss because they mistakenly assumed that they had won the strategic structural battle over the debate format.
Much like the evident calamity that Operation Oedipus has engendered in Iraq.
Much like the Lysenko Administration's rejection of rational polity and the scientific method.
Might this be Rove's methodology finally catching up to him?