The final presidential debate on foreign policy muddled the differences between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama on foreign policy, but foreign policy is second or third on most voters’ list of priorities. Therefore, the debate will likely not impede the Romney surge that preceded the debate. Notwithstanding President Obama’s juvenile retorts, the Marines still employ bayonets, and Mr. Romney’s steady march to victory continues apace.
Stylistically, Mr. Romney showed for the third time that he is every bit as presidential as the current president. In contrast to the incumbent, who interrupted, offered snide remarks and focused incessantly – as he has done for almost four years – on himself, Mr. Romney was confident, knowledgeable, and upbeat about America’s future opportunities, not his, under a Romney presidency. Displaying his confidence and his maturity, he was strong, specific and he played fair by not interrupting or condescending; the president was none of these things.
Substantively, and importantly, Governor Romney was forward looking, and he called out Obama’s failure to look ahead, saying “attacking me is not an agenda.” Mr. Obama seemingly took this to heart and the next day released an “agenda” for his next term.
Thematically, Mr. Romney succeeded in offering policy critiques mixed with compelling calls for renewed leadership abroad, something he has convincingly and increasingly done, as in his excellent speech at VMI. Mr. Romney rightly criticized the president’s “apology tour,” reliance on international consensus, and resort to a kill-only mentality (“We can’t kill our way to victory”). Mr. Romney’s agreement with aspects of President Obama’s policies made Mr. Romney look more, not less, reasonable to undecided voters less attuned to foreign policy issues.
Further displaying an adept recognition of the power of perception, Mr. Romney made clear to independent and undecided voters that he is not a carbon copy of George W. Bush. Mr. Romney made clear that as president, he will not be preemptively sending troops into harm’s way to nation build, and that a Romney administration would prudently seek to end to existing conflicts and pursue peace, while taking the necessary steps to retain a robust military. This was appropriate in a nation weary of war, but cognizant of the lurking threats abroad. The political wisdom of this strategy is obvious: Options that risk no American lives risk no American votes.