7 Insights from the Third Presidential Debate

by Wendy Simmons | October 23, 2012 10:48 am

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney faced off Monday night in their final debate before the November election, with foreign policy as the topic du jour.

Here are seven things voters were able to take away from the candidates’ answers:

  1. The neocons must be terrified. Mitt Romney was cleary hypersensitive to the possibility that he might seem like a warmonger. One of the most difficult things that the typically bellicose GOP has had to contend with in running against Obama is his strong record on fighting terrorism. It’s difficult to argue that a Republican administration would actually be tougher on our enemies than Obama has been, without going to war. On several occasions, Bob Schieffer pressed Romney on what he would do differently in respect to Syria and Iran. Romney was unable to articulate a clear difference between his agenda and Obama’s.
  2. In fact, what we learned Monday is that Romney actually agrees with Obama on almost every foreign policy issue. As he did in the first debate, Romney used this arena to make a sharp pivot to the center. He was basically calm and reassuring while agreeing with most of what Obama has accomplished overseas in his first term. Obama effectively highlighted a host of Romney flip-flops on various issues, ranging from endorsing a deadline for withdrawal in Afghanistan to whether he would support a mission to get Bin Laden inside of Pakistan.
  3. Before this debate, Obama enjoyed strong support in the polls[1] on foreign policy issues. At a minimum, he solidified that position Monday and might have even strengthened it. However, very few voters mention terrorism or foreign policy when asked about the nation’s biggest problems. So, regardless of Obama’s success Monday, it is unlikely to change the minds of many voters in an election that still is about the economy.
  4. Defense spending’s fate might not be as grave as previously perceived. Obama responded to a barb from Romney about defense cuts being automatically executed in January[2], saying, “First of all, the sequester is not something I proposed, it’s something that Congress proposed. It will not happen.” The president’s nod to a more “balanced” budget approach took many off guard, including several Republican leaders, as the cuts were widely thought to be a point of leverage for Obama in any budget negotiations.
  5. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been mercilessly attacking Obama over his relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu specifically and Israel more broadly. The Republican Party has tried hard to portray the alliance as one that has chilled and suggest that Obama is not working closely enough with Bibi to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Obama took the lead Monday on talking about Israel positively. He talked so much about how closely his administration has worked with Israel that he did not give Romney a chance to suggest otherwise.
  6. Perhaps most surprising about Monday’s conversation was the modicum of attention paid to the Benghazi disaster. Although Bob Schieffer’s first question was about Libya, both candidates simply recited their talking points. Romney did not use the opportunity to attack Obama on the specifics of “who knew what and when.” Perhaps the Romney camp believes the story has run its course, or maybe it was worried about another fiery response from Obama over this matter.
  7. Finally, another meme is born. From the election season that brought you InvisibleObama and RomneysBinders, we now have horsebayonette. In response to Romney’s concern that our navy has too few ships compared to 100 years ago, Obama responded that we also have fewer horses and bayonettes. This lovely illustration is now making the rounds online.

The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.

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  1. strong support in the polls: http://www.gallup.com/poll/158336/foreign-policy-data-roundup-americans-candidates-issues.aspx
  2. defense cuts being automatically executed in January: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1012/82736.html

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