The defining moments of Monday's foreign policy debate came halfway through the evening, when President Obama struck himself out--especially in Virginia--with three pitches aimed at Mitt Romney that boomeranged. These ill advised lines will come back to haunt him over the final two weeks of the campaign:
ROMNEY: Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me.
I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947.
We've changed for the first time since FDR -- since FDR we had the -- we've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict. Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the President of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people.
And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is a combination of the budget cuts the president has, as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is making -- is making our future less certain and less secure.
OBAMA: First of all, the sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen. (emphasis added to first strike)
The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it.
But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works.
You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, (emphasis added to second strike) because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships. (emphasis added to third strike) It's what are our capabilities.
Minutes after the debate ended, the Obama campaign "walked back" President Obama's bold proclamation that sequestration "will not happen." As Fox's Bret Baier reported:
Well now, The White House, the campaign, is back peddling. David Plouffe saying in the spin room just behind you, when pressed on this, he said repeatedly "everyone in Washington agrees, the sequester should not happen." When he was asked again he said "it should not happen."
So apparently, will not happen has become should not happen. (emphasis added)
Mr. Obama's snarky "horses and bayonets" line also backfired. As several Marines and Army veterans tweeted during the debate, Marines still use bayonets. In fact, had the President chosen to station Marines at Benghazi, as he should have, Marines would in all likelihood have used their bayonets when the mission there was attacked. Also, the Army's Special Forces currently use horses in the mountains of Afghanistan.
But the President's third self delivered strike is the one that is likely to have the greatest political cost. When he belittled the notion that increasing the current size of our Navy--as Governor Romney suggested--was not worthy of consideration because this "is not a game of Battleship," he effectively wrote off the State of Virginia, where the Navy's Norfolk base plays such a huge role in the local economy.