The thirtieth debate of this presidential season (including all the GOP primary debates) took place in the Jewish ancestral homeland—not Israel, the other one—Boca Raton. And while many of the town’s residents may have been asleep when the debate began, this third and last contest between the two presidential candidates may have been the most interesting from a strategic standpoint.
Going into tonight’s third debate Mitt Romney’s task was to “pass the commander-in-chief test,” to look presidential. His basic task was to seem like a reasonable alternative to President Obama. As a bonus anytime he could bring the discussion back to the economy was a plus as the economic situation is the number one issue in this campaign.
President Obama’s task was turning the momentum around; make the challenger look like a warmonger on the level of Attila the Hun.
If you were in suspended animation for a decade and woke up just in time to watch the debate you might have thought Romney was the president and Obama was the challenger. Obama seemed desperately trying to lure Romney into the same kind of “battle” they had at Hofstra but the GOP candidate wasn’t biting.
At times Obama seemed petty. For example, when the question was about tightening sanctions on Iran, his answer was:
And the fact is, while we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure these sanctions were effective, you were still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector.
One may have expected Obama to add “nah-nah”
When Romney spoke about the need to modernize and add ships to our Navy the president’s answer was a condescending:
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, 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.
In a debate where he could have one by acting presidential, the President lost points by acting nasty.
Tried to score points also, but they were based on Obama’s actions as president, he brought up the abandonment of the “star wars” missile defense system without discussing it withPoland, Obama’s comment to Russia’s Medvedev that he would have more flexibility in a second term, and how Obama has shown weakness to our enemies:
I think from the very beginning, one of the challenges we’ve had with Iran is that they have looked at this administration, and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be.
I think they saw weakness where they had expected to find American strength. And I say that because from the very beginning, the president in his campaign four years ago, said he would meet with all the world’s worst actors in his first year, he’d sit down with Chavez and Kim Jong-il, with Castro and President Ahmadinejad of Iran.
And I think they looked and thought, well, that’s an unusual honor to receive from the President of the United States. And then the president began what I have called an apology tour, of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness.
Then when there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, a Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the president was silent. I think they noticed that as well.
And I think that when the president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel, that they noticed that as well.
Romney’s money comment came on his next answer when Obama denied the apology tour:
Number two, Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations.
And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations.
Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
Through it all President Obama looked small making petty comments, interrupting Romney over thirty times.
Romney: I want a great relationship with China. China can be our partner, but — but that doesn’t mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.
Obama: Well, Governor Romney’s right, you are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas.
Romney kept bringing the discussion back to the economy and the importance of a strong economy to our national security.
But in order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong. America must lead. And for that to happen, we have to strengthen our economy here at home. You can’t have 23 million people struggling to get a job. You can’t have an economy that over the last three years keeps slowing down its growth rate. You can’t have kids coming out of college; half of them can’t find a job today, or a job that’s commensurate with their college degree. We have to get our economy going.
Just before the first GOP primary debate in May 2011; I commented that debates never change people’s minds. This has been an unusual political season; most of the twenty-six debates during the primary season were effective in changing people’s minds perhaps to excess.
But surely, I believed these presidential debates wouldn’t matter; that belief was incorrect.
The three Presidential debates changed the entire structure of the campaign. Before the first debate Obama was winning by a slight margin and clearly had the momentum. By showing he was not the evil monster portrayed in Obama’s commercials, Governor Romney won the first debate and made a significant turnaround. It was the Romney camp that became energized, as he became the slight leader with the momentum.
The second debate was seen by most as an Obama victory, but those same polls showed Romney the victor on the most key issues the economy, jobs, and leadership.
To change the structure in the final debate, President Obama needed to score a decisive victory. That did not happen. No one’s mind was changed tonight, but some who were leaning Romney may have firmed up their support.
Last night was “the final argument” of these two candidates. Sure there will be campaigning and commercials especially in the battleground states, but the real task ahead especially in an election this close will be for both sides to get out the vote. And in the end, that get out the vote effort may determine which of these two become our next president.