Republican Mitt Romney scored a narrow victory over President Barack Obama in Monday night’s Third Presidential Debate, which focused on foreign policy. Romney won despite being more cautious than expected–avoiding confrontation on the Libya issue, for example, and emphasizing areas of agreement with Obama where possible. He had a better command of the facts, defended his positions well, and looked more presidential.
Obama was very aggressive throughout the debate–perhaps still trying to compensate for his lackluster first debate–using every single question to attack his opponent’s record and policies. That approach may have backfired, as it allowed Romney to strike a calmer, more stable posture. Romney’s apparent strategy was to give up scoring points on particular issues in favor of appealing to war-weary, politics-weary moderate voters.
But that did not mean Romney failed to fight–and fight he did, particularly on the issue of Iran, which he stressed repeatedly as the biggest threat to the U.S. and the greatest failure of the Obama administration. He also repulsed some of Obama’s attacks–when given the opportunity by a moderator who once again showed far greater favor to the incumbent–and occasionally used some of them to pivot to his favored policy points.
Obama went overboard in some of his criticisms of Romney, not only by striking a less presidential posture but by relying on factual assertions that were bound to be proven false afterwards.
When Romney criticized looming defense cuts, for example, Obama countered by expressing contempt for Romney’s alleged ignorance about the military, saying that it was as outdated as military bayonets.
The problem? The military still uses bayonets.
The strongest point of the debate for Obama was when he spoke about his Afghanistan policy. For what seemed like the only time in the whole debate, he stepped back to paint a broader picture, explaining why he had committed more troops to the effort–and how he intended to help them find jobs when they came home. It was an excellent answer, combining a defense of his record with a pivot to his economic policy.
Romney’s strongest point–aside from a far more optimistic, and presidential, closing statement–was his answer on China. He defended his policy ably, against a remarkably pointed follow-up question from moderator Bob Schieffer that suggested Romney would start a “trade war,” and against a renewed attack from Obama on Romney’s position on the auto bailout. Romney was strong, principled, and unmovable.
A CBS poll immediately after the debate suggested a strong win for Obama–perhaps reflecting Obama’s far more aggressive posture during the debate.
Yet Romney did what he needed to do most, which was to show stature on foreign policy. Obama failed, as predicted, to disqualify his opponent–and seems to have created a few new questions to answer, whether on his retreat from defense sequestration, or his gaffe on bayonets.