Governor Romney played it safe, but did enough to secure the win in the final debate at Lynn University.
In playing it safe, however, Governor Romney did leave some notable issues on the table. For example, Romney had opportunities to attack the incumbent president’s position with respect to the tragic and preventable deaths in Libya and the faux video excuse propagated to the American people by the current administration for weeks – but, he chose not to. Romney could have pressed Obama on the capital of Israel – which apparently is a fluid situation according to the present administration – or on President Obama’s offensive, and frankly incompetent, suggestion that Israel consider going back to the indefensible pre-1967 borders – but, he chose not to.
This is not to state that Romney never attacked during the entire debate. Indeed, he challenged Obama on his American-Apology Middle East tour and noted with concern the growing daylight between Israel and the United States during the past four years. To which President Obama responded curtly by speaking about his feelings after visiting a holocaust museum and Israel – in 2008, before he was president. This was an obvious score for Romney since Obama did not seem to have a strong answer for the current issue.
Conversely, President Obama also scored at times. For instance, when Governor Romney challenged him on America’s shrinking Navy, Obama came back with a reference to ‘horses and bayonets’ which was meant to suggest that a smaller Navy does not necessarily equate to a weaker Navy. This was, perhaps, Obama’s most effective line.
However, at times, President Obama was also less effective in his aggression. For example, Obama predictably mentioned the death of Osama Bin Laden – again, without crediting the intelligence gathered in the previous administration. Unfortunately, for the president, he has spiked this proverbial football too many times to be that effective in this debate. Equally predictable, as an Osama Bin Laden reference, Obama also managed to bring up George W. Bush – yet again. Though this reference was obvious red meat for his base, the effectiveness of this blame-game has waned significantly since 2008. The fact that President Obama felt the need to so blatantly cater to his base in the final debate could signal serious internal concern about the enthusiasm of his base.
Overall, this debate could have easily been a draw, but for Governor Romney’s response with regard to China. In addressing the question, Romney assessed the issue plainly and clearly for the American people and, more importantly, laid out a coherent vision for how to answer the rising challenge from China. Interestingly, in dealing with China, Mitt Romney appeared significantly more presidential than his challenger – the current president. Though posed as a foreign policy question, this was an economic issue that Romney was obviously prepared for. Further, the question allowed Romney to hammer his assertion that without a strong economy at home, America cannot continue to be strong abroad.
On a somewhat lighter note, the infamous debate-grin from the Vice-Presidential debate made yet another appearance. President Obama, for inexplicable reasons, continued to take a page out of Joe Biden’s playbook and wore a smirking grin through much of the debate. Unfortunately for Obama, this grin, at times, seemed wildly inappropriate and even condescending – such as smirking while Romney was speaking about genuine middle class struggles through the past four years.
It should also be noted that Governor Romney, though having played it safe for much of the night, also played it smart. For example, when discussing Libya, some may have wanted Governor Romney to aggressively push President Obama’s failure to get congressional approval. However, by choosing not to push this issue, Romney demonstrated considerable restraint and Constitutional sophistication. By design, the executive and legislative branches of the United States government continually vie for power against each other – so as to ensure, through jealous competition, that one branch does not get too powerful. Consequently, it was not surprising that Romney, who is running to be commander-in-chief, did not affirmatively act to weaken the executive branch.
In regards to strategy, Governor Romney’s noticeable pursuit of playing it safe likely undercut Obama’s ability to effectively attack him. However, in fairness, it also had the effect of blunting potential scores for Romney. President Obama, perhaps sensing that he is behind in the debates, was clearly the aggressor and that won him some needed points.
Nevertheless, in summation, for President Obama to win, he needed Governor Romney to make a serious gaffe. Romney, while also scoring some points, avoided making such a gaffe by largely playing it safe and ultimately came out ahead in a rather even debate.