If you missed last night’s final presidential debate, you can get a full transcript here. Quick verdict: Romney wins on presence and attitude. A summary of the debate could be boiled down to: Obama claims his policies are all working well, while Romney points out multiple areas where the actual results indicate otherwise. The roles were reversed in this debate; Romney took the position of the established candidate while Obama played the role of the challenger.
Romney played rope a dope. Ahead on points after the first two debates, Romney avoided controversy and played it safe, finding areas of agreement rather than disagreement, and projecting an attitude of competence rather than conflict. Obama, on the other hand, was in full-on attack mode, going out of his way to attack Romney on every question. In a prize fight, Obama acted like the challenger rather than the champion.
Obama’s primary message appeared to be, “If you liked the last four years, then vote for me.” It was the first time during the debates where I saw Obama run on his record. Romney appeared to be content to allow Obama to do so, and made sure he gave the other side of the story – the results of Obama’s record. World events favored Romney in this case, as there are very real challenges in the world, including the Syrian civil war, which is now spilling over into Turkey and Lebanon, unrest and violence in Pakistan, the rise of sectarian violence in Egypt, including the new president attending religious services where the imam prayed for the destruction of Israel, China’s growing aggression towards its neighbors, the attacks on our embassies in Egypt, Libya and other places, and of course, Iran’s drive towards becoming a nuclear power. Many of these issues, according to Romney, can be linked to Obama’s actions, some of which, Romney added, made us appear weak to our enemies.
I think also that pulling our missile defense program out of Poland in the way we did was also unfortunate in terms of, if you will, disrupting the relationship in some ways that existed between us.
And then, of course, with regards to standing for our principles, when — when the students took to the streets in Tehran and the people there protested, the Green Revolution occurred, for the president to be silent I thought was an enormous mistake.
I think from the very beginning, one of the challenges we’ve had with Iran is that they have looked at this administration, and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be.
I think they saw weakness where they had expected to find American strength. And I say that because from the very beginning, the president in his campaign four years ago, said he would meet with all the world’s worst actors in his first year, he’d sit down with Chavez and Kim Jong-il, with Castro and President Ahmadinejad of Iran.
And I think they looked and thought, well, that’s an unusual honor to receive from the President of the United States. And then the president began what I have called an apology tour, of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness.
Then when there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, a Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the president was silent. I think they noticed that as well.
And I think that when the president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel, that they noticed that as well.
Obama returned several times to the message that Romney has changed position multiple times on several issues, indicating that Romney was “all over the map.” Romney clearly documented how in his view Obama’s actions and statements led to an appearance of weakness abroad, and was ready to rebut the President when he tried to deny the “Apology Tour.” Romney’s ability to directly quote some of Obama’s statements was devastating for the President.
Obama’s statement about the Navy was arrogant, condescending, and simply wrong.
You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting slips. It’s what are our capabilities.
A Navy without ships is not a navy. As a Navy vet, this is something I am very familiar with. Obama answered that we needed fewer ships because of aircraft carriers and submarines. What he didn’t say is that we have fewer aircraft carriers and submarines. In 1984 when I went into the Navy, we had 15 battle groups, consisting of 13 aircraft carriers and 2 battleships supported by 201 cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. We had 120 support ships and 98 submarines, including 35 ballistic missile subs. When I got out in 1993, those numbers had changed to 13 battle groups, consisting of 13 aircraft carriers and no battleships supported by 148 cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. We had 110 support ships and 88 submarines, including 22 ballistic missile subs. As of 2011, we have 11 battle groups, consisting of 11 aircraft carriers supported by 109 cruisers, destroyers and frigates. We have 46 support ships, and 53 submarines, with only 14 ballistic missile subs.
From 35 ballistic missile subs to 14. There is absolutely no way the U.S .Navy maintains the same mission capability with this number of ships as when I was serving. Obama was wrong.
Romney opened strong with “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” indirectly referencing the Obama administration’s use of drones. Romney weakened that opening by later saying that he supported Obama’s use of drones and stating that he would do the same thing. Neither candidate addressed the targeting of U.S. citizens in drone attacks.
Obama said that the sequestration “will not happen.” That’s a tall order given the gridlock in Washington and his own promise to veto legislation that doesn’t include a tax increase on the wealthy.
Schieffer asked an interesting question on Israel:
Would either of you – and you’ll have two minutes – and, President Obama, you have the first go at this one – would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which, of course, is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan.
Apparently, as far as Schieffer is concerned, Israel is not a close ally.
Contrasting Obama’s and Romney’s answers:
OBAMA: First of all, Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency.
ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I’m President of the United States, when I’m President of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.
Romney’s promise was specific; Obama’s left some wiggle room.
As he did during the domestic policy debate, Romney was prepared with a list of trouble spots for Obama’s foreign policies.
Look, I look at what’s happening around the world, and I see Iran four years closer to a bomb. I see the Middle East with a rising tide of violence, chaos, tumult. I see jihadists continuing to spread, whether they’re rising or just about the same level, hard to precisely measure, but it’s clear they’re there. They’re very strong.
I see Syria with 30,000 civilians dead, Assad still in power. I see our trade deficit with China, larger than – it’s growing larger every year, as a matter of fact.
I look around the world and I don’t feel that you see North Korea, continuing to export their nuclear technology, Russia said they’re not going to follow Nunn-Lugar any more. They’re back away from a nuclear proliferation treaty that we had with them.
I look around the world, I don’t see our influence growing around the world. I see our influence receding, in part because of the failure of the president to deal with our economic challenges at home; in part because of our withdrawal from our commitment to our military in the way I think it ought to be; in part because of the, the, the turmoil with Israel.
Favorite line of the night: “Attacking me is not an agenda.” The fact that it was Romney making this point indicates to me just how far ahead he was in the debates. Overall, Romney took a huge lead after the first debate, and Obama did not do enough to overcome that lead. I believe the momentum will remain with Romney unless something dramatic happens.
Previous Debate Posts
Action Speaks Louder: The First Debate
Ryan Vs Biden: DC in a Nutshell
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