When analyzing who won a debate, you can look at a number of factors: Who achieved their overarchhing objective, who had the most memorable lines, who might have left behind ticking time bombs in terms of statements that will return to haunt them. Looking at any of the three, Romney was the clear winner, and Obama the loser.
Obviously, Romney's overarching objective wasn't to score debate points on Benghazi or Syria. It was to prove that he is competent, calm, knowledgeable and -- most emphatically -- not a warmonger. It was to make sure he seemed presidential. He achieved it. By contrast, the President needed to highlight some perceived Romney mistake or lack of knowledge, or unsuitability of temperament or other disqualifying characteristic. He failed -- and worse, he made himself dislikable in his efforts to goad Romney into a fight . . . especially when Romney serenely declined to take the bait.
On memorable lines that provide the moments viewers remember, Romney obviously had it all over the President. From "attacking me is not an agenda" to "Mr. President, America Has Not Dictated to Other Nations; We Have Freed Other Nations From Dictators” to "Nowhere in the world is America's influence stronger than it was 4 years ago" (an echo of "are you better off than you were four years ago?") he had the memorable take-away phrases.
Ticking time bombs? How 'bout Obama's statement that the sequestration "would not happen" -- already being walked back and shown up for the bluster that it was? Or the dismissive invocation of "bayonets" and the Navy -- sure to sit well in Virginia (and ignorant of the fact that Marines still fight with bayonets)? Or his misstatements on Iraq status of forces agreement?
Look, some focus groups feel like Obama won the foreign policy portion of the debate. Fine. But Romney didn't need to win on debate points -- he needed not to lose, and to maintain his strong advantages on the economy, and to remain presidential. He did all of it, and more. At the same time, President Obama seemed nervous, on the attack, again condescending and did nothing to raise his flagging likability numbers (he even seemed to me to be lecturing voters in his closing statement!).
What struck me the most was that for Romney, it is clear about America and its future. For Obama, it is all about him -- whether he was right, what he has done -- and not about a policy or a vision for this country . . yet again, he failed to lay one out. And that, in the end, reveals how apt Governor Romney's invocation was when, in his closing statement, he highlighted the two very different paths for this country that each man represents.