I've been ruminating on it this morning and can't think of any circumstances under which Bush will not be declared the winner of Friday's debate. The media will require of itself that the outcome of the debates also be balanced, and since Kerry won the first exchange, Bush must win the second debate.
In all likelihood the debate will be a draw since there's no way Bush's team will let him look like such a fool twice in a row. Additionally, we know the press will never deign to actually examine the domestic proposals of each candidate, so Bush will be allowed to stand up straight, throw out "ownership society," "tax cuts," and some new take on "fuzzy math" as a joke, while Kerry will perform in much the same manner as the first exchange. The result is two men who seem reasonably intelligent disagreeing on the best way to balance the budget over the next decade.
Since the bar has now been set impossibly low for Bush ("will he actually start to drool this time?"), his performance on Friday will be spun as having been "solid," and as such he will have "bounced back/rebounded" from the initial disaster. I have an image in my head of a Cokie Roberts-style media analyst delivering an assessment.
"President Bush needed to rebound from his lackluster perfomance in the first debate and he seems to have done just that. He challenged Kerry early on over the issue of [probably tax cuts] and laid out his message that [again probably tax cuts] were working and Americans were going back to work. He was positive and upbeat and reminded Americans that he had bold new proposals for his second term."
I am actually making myself sick as I type this. Anyway, Bush will "rebound" Friday and the final debate will be a draw. Kerry may wind up being the loser overall since he was never able to deliver the "knockout blow" that is suddenly required of him. Needless to say, nothing will prevent the media from reestablishing the "strong leader" meme after Friday night.