Picking up where he left off at Hofstra University in the second debate, President Barack Obama punished Mitt Romney with a bevy of facts, turning his adversary into an opponent more willing to agree than put up a fight.
It was expected that Obama would practically vanquish Romney on foreign policy in this final debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., and such was the case, though a knockout blow was forestalled by a Romney clutching for straws, if not overcoming Obama with agreement. Some of the agreement between them was fostered on Romney by Obama’s tactical language, as when they were discussing al Qaeda.
“Governor Romney,” Obama began, “I’m glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after al Qaeda, but I have to tell you that … your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East.”
The operative phrase here is “all over the map,” and it was in response to Romney not having any thorough knowledge about any one thing, although there was a glimmer of insight during his opening remarks on China. However, even on this topic, Obama quickly bested him.
“China is both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules,” the president explained. “So my attitude coming into office was that we are going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everybody else.”
Obama’s comments on China were a perfect segue into a jab about jobs being shipped overseas and American businesses and workers not getting a level playing field when it came to trade. Whether he intended it or not, it was also a nice bouquet to workers in Ohio–a key battleground state that Romney must carry if he’s to have even a remote chance of defeating Obama in electoral votes.
The president’s only noticeable flub came on this same point when he was referring to steelworkers in Ohio and throughout the Midwest. “We had a tire case in which they [China] were flooding us with cheap domestic tires, ur, cheap Chinese tires.”
Romney, scrambling to find an international edge, perhaps gained a bit of traction when they discussed the status of the Navy. “Our Navy is old,” he asserted, “excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now … under 285. We’re headed down to the low 200s … that’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.”
The governor was obviously pandering to the shipyards of Virginia, which, with its 13 electoral votes, is among the most sought-after of the swing states.
Neither of them mentioned Palestine when talking about the standoff between Iran and Israel or the two-state solution. Obama deftly parried Romney’s assertion that he had “skipped Israel” during his foreign tour in 2008, indicating the places he had visited, including the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem and the border town of Sderot.
The debate occurred on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, though neither candidate chose to cite it. Even Romney neglected the island nation in his recitation on the importance of Latin America in foreign policy and trade.
While Obama has struggled to subdue his tendency to wax professorially on a couple of occasions, it was unavoidable as he chastised Romney, pointing out almost sarcastically that there are aircraft carriers where planes land on ships and submarines that go underwater. He also reminded Romney, who often drifted back in the past, that there are “fewer horses and bayonets” to illustrate the changing character of our military.
For some reason, very little was said about Benghazi and the tragedy that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Nor did Romney bead in on what he had tentatively alluded to in the second debate about tying the economy to national security.
No, it wasn’t a slam dunk like the second debate, but Obama skillfully outpointed Romney, forcing him into a defensive posture, thus making it difficult for the governor to find his rhythm and land a blow.
Now that the debates are over, an assured Obama and disingenuous Romney–who, like Bernie Madoff, is a “Wizard of Lies”–have to wait to see how the polls vacillate in the remaining two weeks, see if the needle moved any among the so-called undecided voters and wonder what Donald Trump’s October surprise is all about.