The reviews are in for the first presidential debate of the 2012 election campaign, with experts and voters agreeing that Mitt Romney came out swinging, challenging President Obama on health care, the economy and even funding for Sesame Street’s Big Bird.
While the debate in Denver might affect the future of the country, it in no way matches the next great debate, the so-called “Rumble in the Air Conditioned Auditorium,” set to take place Saturday between “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and Fox News Channel prime-time host Bill O’Reilly, at least according to Stewart.
So which presidential candidates’ tactics will the political funnyman steal in order to attempt to defeat his conservative nemesis?
“I’m going to do the same strategy that Obama took,” Stewart said in a live appearance today on “Good Morning America.” “It’s the rope-a-dope but instead of letting your opponent punch himself out, you just get beat up.”
“O’Reilly is 6 feet, 5 inches [tall], 250 [pounds]. It’s like debating a Yedi [or Sasquatch],” he said. “I just need to stay away from one of his paws. If he gets a paw on me I’m done. I train “Rocky” style right now.”
While President Obama didn’t have to worry about Romney hitting him, he might pay attention to the lessons Stewart took away from his debate performance, such as beefing up on his briefing books.
“I’m sure President Obama now realizes, oh, pre-season is over. I should probably familiarize myself with my presidency, learn some of the numbers and things that go along with it,” Stewart said. “I used to think [with] the pauses, he was just trying to think of smaller words for the little brains to figure out what he was saying, but this time I really think the pauses were, ‘I like food, my children are nice.’ He just didn’t seem present in the same way.”
In a format somewhat similar to Wednesday night’s debate, Stewart and O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. ET debate Saturday will be moderated by a high-profile news anchor, CNN contributor E.D. Hill, but will feature 30 minutes of audience questions in addition to 60 minutes of back-and-forth between the two TV men. It will be streamed online.
The sold-out event, taking place at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., was said to be a joint effort between the two to promote their books and shows and raise money for charity.
Stewart, however, said the whole thing was O’Reilly’s doing.
“This was his idea,” he said. “I get a call from him one day. My phone wasn’t even plugged in. It just rang. That guy is magic. It was like, ‘Stewart, O’Reilly, debate.’”
Stewart’s “Comedy Central” counterpart, host Stephen Colbert, predicted on “GMA” Tuesday that Stewart would “eat Bill O’Reilly’s liver,” and Stewart did not disagree.
“When I’m done with O’Reilly, he’ll convert to Judaism,” Stewart said. “I will shut him down. This guy is going down.”
Despite the smack talk, Stewart (they have made 14 appearances on each others’ show in the past three years) says their debate is an example of an important element sometimes missing in U.S. politics, civil discourse.
“It’s always struck me as bizarre, this idea that the people that you disagree with, you should not ever engage with,” Stewart, 49, said. “I have people in my family that make that guy [O'Reilly] look like Che Guevara and I love them.”
“He [O'Reilly] will weep most likely like a child, but that’s not the most important part,” he said. “We’re going to have fun and a good, substantive conversation.”