Dropping the little people off at school today, I was approached by several of the Republican moms -- intelligent, interesting, accomplished women all -- who expressed worry that Romney had perhaps "lost" the debate by holding off on obvious critiques of the failed Obama record on foreign policy.
For any other intelligent, interesting, accomplished people out there who share that concern, I'll just say it straight out: Don't worry. Romney handled the debate absolutely correctly. I share the sentiments of those who would have liked to see him absolutely hammer Obama on the manifold policy failures of this administration -- from Benghazi to Iran to Syria, to his endorsements by Putin and Chavez and Castro, to his snubbing of Israel, to Iran, to "leading from behind" and so much, much more. It would have been immensely satisfying.
But it would have been a mistake. And here's why: All of us who would have relished those attacks are already committed Romney voters. It wasn't the governor's objective to secure our support last night. He has it. Rather, he needed to convince wavering or undecided voters of both a positive and a negative fact: First, positively that he was up to the job of being Commander in Chief, and then that -- contrary to Obama's claims or insinuations -- he does not represent the coming of an aggressive foreign policy that will result in America being embroiled in a series of new mideast wars.
Especially for the undecided (sometimes low-information) voters Romney needs, tone and substance are often blurred. And even if Romney had been absolutely correct and justified about the critiques and the objects and subjects of a hard-hitting take-down of Obama's foreign policies, it would still have meant that he would have risked coming across as aggressive -- like the kind of guy who might start a war. That's not what we wanted to do, as it could have frightened or alienated some of the voters he needs, while playing into Obama's strategy of portraying him as a warmonger.
Were there "missed opportunities" in terms of openings to score debate points against Obama? Absolutely. But those are minor tactical issues compared with the larger tactics (remain calm, controlled and above-the-fray) that support the strategy of helping undecided voters -- unhappy with the economy and the country's direction -- to feel that a vote for Romney isn't risky in any way.
What Romney did took an enormous amount of self-discipline, especially in light of the President's concerted efforts to bait him into verbal fireworks that would allow the Obama campaign to argue that Romney is unsteady and unready. Instead, the President's behavior simply made him look small, petty and desperate. It speaks well of Romney's judgment, temperament and intellect that he was able to stick to his strategy and make it work for him.
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