Debate Result: Clear Obama Victory, But Close Election Ahead
Live debate coverage from Truman Fellow Ari Ratner:
Perhaps the most shocking thing we’ve learned over the first two presidential debates is that Mitt Romney can really act.
Before the debate in Denver, Romney’s repeated flips and flops had convinced no one. But six years of preparatory study at the Mitt Romney presidential-candidate conservatory has greatly increased his theatrical skills.
Now in the curtain call of the presidential debates — a debate on foreign policy — Romney had the chance to audition for the greatest role of his life: Statesman. It’s a part he’s wanted to play for years. But could he pull it off?
Below, I critique the finer points of Romney’s performance — on substance and style — as he attempted to out duel a proven statesman in President Obama (when you order the killing on Osama bin Laden, you don’t have to act).
1) W. Mitt Romeny’s Cowboy Diplomacy: As previously noted by this critic, Romney has been trying hard to disguise his close similarities to George W. Bush. But in foreign policy the temptation for Romney to play “cowboy” may be too much for him to pass down. Watch out for both obfuscation —and justification — of the roots of Romney’s foreign policy in the failures of the Bush era.
Above all else, watch for this B-action movie script: In a dangerous world, where the United States has been led astray by Obama’s “weakness,” only one man has the courage to stand up for American principles: Mitt Romney.
2) Mitt doing some Clint Eastwood-ing: Like Clint Eastwood arguing with an empty chair, look for Mitt Romney to take the fight to a strawman. He will argue that President Obama and his team are weak, that the horrific attack in Benghazi means that the President Obama’s policy is a failure, and that the United States is not leading or shaping events.
Romney may have failed to notice, but President Obama hired someone to work day and night to shape world events to protect America’s people and serve our interests and that of our allies. Her name is Hillary Clinton. She’s tough as nails, and it’s no act. And she serves a president who’s withdrawn responsibly from Iraq, protected our homeland, gone after Al Qaeda ruthlessly, and shown tremendous judgement and character.
3) The Presence of Paul “Longshanks”Ryan: As this critic has noted, Paul “Longshanks” Ryan and his Republican colleagues are determined to de-fund American diplomacy — no matter the consequences. Will Romney stand up for his understudy’s reckless quest to de-fund the State Department — including cutting embassy security and the resources for our response to the Arab Spring?
4) Mitt-Libs: Women in Binders? 47% of Americans called “takers” who — without irony —still won’t take responsibility for the their lives? Pets being strapped to the roof of cars?
This is the stuff that makes Mitt such a tremendous ad-liber — in both word and deed. What will we see tonight for Romney’s encore?
Foreign policy is a tough issue —in reality, our two parties hold many of the same positions or at least are operating from the same script of: protecting America, our allies, and our interests while promoting a more stable, secure, and just world. But Romney just can’t agree with President Obama when the president is right. This is where Romney’s tremendous improve ability will come in handy.
Some additional post-debate thoughts:
1) Obama clearly won the debate. He was arguing for the most part as commander-in-chief, while Romney was mostly agreeing with him. His answers in response to Romney’s criticism for the “apology tour” and America’s “naval decline” were hard-hitting and memorable. It is also certainly true that Romney was minimizing differences. At one point, Romney was agreeing so much, it almost seemed as if he was auditioning to replace Hillary Clinton as Obama’s next Secretary of State. That said, it’s not clear to me what the impact of the debate will be, and Romney obviously feels like he was in good enough shape to not engage heavily, so he most likely has internal polling that shows him in good shape. He was operating under the “do no harm” principle, and though I think Obama is likely to get a small bounce, Romney may also feel that he ran out the clock on a tie game here.
2) A lot of foreign policy hands were upset that the debate veered off so frequently into domestic policy, but the reality is not only that domestic policy is not only what American voters care about most, what happens here at home is the single most important issue in America’s foreign policy. The health and strength of our society, our economy, and our people is what defines America’s strength in the world, so the candidates were right to talk about the budget, and the economy, and education. Quite frankly, I think it is on these points were Romney– because he’s had to parrot GOP orthodoxy for so long– falls most shot on substance. Romney, however, also falls far short in his discussion of the Islamic world, conflating real extremists with the groups like the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, which while troubling in certain respects, just won a series of fair elections in Egypt and seeks to work with the U.S. I worry that this type of blustering would follow into a Romney White House.
3) It is certainly true that the debate was skewed towards certain issues– Iran, Israel, and the Mideast more generally. These are obviously critical issues, but people are right to mention how Asia was barely discussed– and really only in the context of a possible trade war with China– while whole swaths of the globe, including India, Latin America, Africa were barely mentioned at all. Same goes for key issues like human rights, cyber security, climate change that were barely discussed or not discussed at all.
That said, it’s worth noting that this is a debate in a close election, it’s not a governing strategy, and all of these issues would have to be dealt with in great detail by either candidate were he to win.
Ari Ratner is a Truman Security Fellow. This article originally appeared in PolicyMic.com