First, from Mike Allen's Washington Post piece
Bush's Isolation From Reporters Could Be Hindrance, with the quote:
Several Bush advisers said the president may well pay a price for his decision to remain isolated from tough or unexpected questions when he faces Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), whose events are notably less scripted, in a town-hall-style debate tonight at Washington University in St. Louis. [ emph. added]Okay, this could be playing the expectations game. It does play to a common feeling about Bush and it could depress pre-debate esteem for Bush.
A second quote, which can't really be spun as "lowering expectations" but more as CYA, is from the Howard Fineman piece that's been a popular link target today:
Many observers have said the Bush team was too smart by half in insisting that the first debate be about foreign policy and defense — that is, Iraq. I am told that this wasn't done out of arrogance or ignorance; it was done that way in part to leave them plenty of time to repair any damage if Bush screwed up. [emph. added]This doesn't pass the smell test for me. Maybe it's true, but it sounds like some ass-covering from aides who are suddenly not so enamored of Great Leader and who think they may have screwed up by making the first debate about foreign policy.
Of course, this could all be Rovian genius, but I just can't see it that way. It seems like, as Fineman puts it: "Bush is beginning to sound desperate."