When more than 20 million Americans are out of work, or working only part time because that’s the best they can do, or are so discouraged that they’ve stopped looking for jobs, I’m not sure how much a foreign policy debate matters to voters.
President Obama came off, well, as presidential in debate number 3. But so did Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama may have dominated much of the debate – I think he did — but Romney passed the commander-in-chief test. You could picture him calling the shots in the Oval Office. He was knowledgeable and well informed. As Brit Hume said on Fox: It didn’t hurt Romney that he didn’t have broad disagreements with the president. He didn’t have to.
The Obama campaign has been trying to portray Romney as a warmonger for some time now, realizing that Americans are weary of war and don’t want a president who will take us into yet another military quagmire. But during the debate, it was Romney who came off as the peace candidate, saying, “We can’t kill our way out of this mess” and telling the president that “attacking me is not an agenda.”
For much of the night, I thought Romney played defense. It looked to me like he was sitting on the lead he had built up since the first debate and running out the clock. I’m not sure that was the best strategy. But he was strong when he accused the president of going on an “apology tour” soon after he took office. The president predictably said this wasn’t true. But when you tell an audience in Cairo that America hasn’t lived up to its values – that sounds like an apology to me. Americans don’t like our president going overseas and apologizing to people who would have trouble spelling “democracy.”
But Romney could have, to cite just one example, pressed the president on Libya, on how the American Embassy asked for more security and was turned down – and how four Americans were then killed. On how the president blamed a cheesy anti-Muslim video for rioting in Benghazi that apparently never took place. He could have said the president is engaging even now in a cover up — for political reasons. But Romney didn’t do any of those things. Conservatives will wish Romney were tougher. We’ll find out how this played in living rooms between Manhattan and Malibu.
Romney was strongest on domestic issues, reminding voters how dismal the president’s economic record has been, and causing me to tweet, “too bad this is a foreign policy debate.”
For parts of the debate Romney reminded me of Mr. Obama in debate number 1. Too low key. On the other side of the coin, the president was in constant attack mode. I thought a lot of it worked. We’ll have to see how “tough” plays with the un-decides.
On CNN, James Carville said, “Obama came to attack, Romney came to agree.” There’s some truth in that. But then Carville concluded that, Mr. Obama won in a rout. That, to me, sounded like wishful thinking.
Ever since the first debate the momentum has been moving in Mitt Romney’s favor. Nothing that happened in this debate will change any minds already made up. We will know soon enough if it changed those minds still in flux – or if a debate on foreign policy just doesn’t matter all that much if you’re worried about paying the bills.