Chris Matthews can laugh about it now, but when President Obama stuttered and equivocated his way to a decisive loss in the first presidential debate two weeks ago, the MSNBC anchor was apoplectic on air, raging over the Democrat's performance.
"I wanted to do a little intervention there," he joked to The Hollywood Reporter on Saturday, speaking of the president (though he could have required one himself).
Matthews, who faced off with conservative Fox anchor Bill O'Reilly in a debate (which required each to suck up helium before giving each answer) on Saturday for Comedy Central's Night of Too Many Stars, actually has more of a bone to pick with the entire debate process.
"I think the camera work is a mistake. I think creating a split screen every time creates a kind of Family Feud situation, a reality TV show situation," the long-time host and pundit explained. "I mean, what are you supposed to do when the other guy is attacking you? I think they’re kind of creating a false rivalry of reaction. He’s going to have to deal with it, they’re not going to stop doing it. The trick is to be somewhat sardonic."
And so, viewers are subject to the media's inevitable obsession with candidates' body language -- see: the focus on Obama's grimace, Vice President's laughter, and GOP veep nominee Paul Ryan's water intake -- and the lack of focus on the factual accuracy of the many assertions made by the participants.
"I think the most important thing is that it’s sort of an application for a job. It’s not really a debate, it’s an audition," he said.
For Obama, acing the audition will require overcoming his subpar skillset -- "He's not a performer" -- and concentrate on his accomplishments.
"All he has to do, not that he’ll win, but he’ll do much better if he just lets the other guy attack him," Matthews offered. "Which, he will, let the incoming come in, and every once in a while say, ‘You know, you can criticize, but here’s what I’ve come into, but here’s what I’ve done with it. 40 million people waiting in emergency rooms. I think we should be a modern country and have insurance for everybody.'"
Matthews continued rattling off a recommended progressive monologue for the president, saying he should point out that, "women getting paid less than men per hour, we can change that. A lot of Republicans can disagree with me. The auto industry was dying, I intervened -- you can disagree, but that’s what I did.'"
Ultimately, the hosted noted, it will come down to whether Romney or Obama can hang a frame on the last four years.
"I think the American people just want to hear a guy defend himself," he said. "He doesn’t have to win, as I said; he simply has to remind people that he’s done some good things, and nobody has any better ideas."