Anyone expecting Mr. Obama to be put on the spot–or to provide any truthful answers–on Libya was sorely disappointed. In fact, anyone expecting a foreign policy debate that actually focused primarily and substantively on foreign policy was sorely disappointed. However, that may not have been entirely bad.
On Fox News, Frank Luntz ran a focus group of 27 people, virtually all of who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. By far their biggest concern was the economy, and they were delighted Mr. Romney kept returning to it, and felt he had an overwhelming edge on economic issues. They also felt Mr. Obama had the edge on foreign policy.
As I’ve done in the last three articles on debates, the Fox News transcript of the debate is available here.
Bob Schieffer (CBS News): Schieffer was more professional than any other debate moderator, but he still interrupted Mr. Romney several times, shutting him down when he was about to rebut Mr. Obama, or when he was successfully rebutting him. However compared to the blatant partisanship of Candy Crowley, he appeared almost non-partisan.
Mr. Obama: Mean, condescending, angry, smirking and grinning, and occasionally mugging toward Schieffer as though they shared the same opinion of Mr. Romney and knew it. Mr. Obama stayed away from explaining his future plans in detail and spent most of his time attacking Mr. Romney, commonly misrepresenting his positions and statements. He repeatedly called himself the Commander in Chief, and was as self-referential as Americans have come to expect. He looked small and petty, sometimes behaved childishly, and demonstrated no real command of facts and figures. Even so, some of Mr. Obama’s answers would surely sound informed and convincing, particularly to those who have no knowledge of his actual record.
Mr. Romney: Calm and earnest. His command of facts and figures was impressive, and his zingers were direct, to the point and entirely factual. In fact, they greatly angered Mr. Obama who had no response at all to most of them. Mr. Romney needed to look presidential, he needed to appear to be a man Americans could see in the Oval Office, and in that, he succeeded.
THE LIBYA SCANDAL: Virtually nonexistent. As I noted in the opening, they almost seemed happy about that. Mr. Romney, given chances to raise the issue, ignored them and hastened back to the economy. Mr. Obama stayed on the attack—often on a personal level—against Mr. Romney. I have no idea why they both more or less ignored the issue. Perhaps there are more October Surprises in the offing than anyone imagines, and perhaps Mr. Romney knows of them, preferring to allow them to do the damage. Time will tell.
OBAMA WHOPPERS: As in every previous debate, Mr. Obama made a large number of statements that were so false one almost laughed aloud at his audacity. Some representative samples:
On his military successes:
Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated.
Actually, Mr. Obama was closer than he imagined as the true definition of “decimate” is to reduce by 1/10.
On answering that 3 AM Phone call about the Libyan Embassy attack, he:
did everything we could to secure those Americans who were still in harm’s way.
Fact: Despite having military assets that could have been on station within one to three hours, none were sent.
On clarity of language and trustworthiness:
You’ve got to be clear—both to our allies and to our enemies—where you stand and what you mean.
Mr. Obama’s untrustworthy rhetoric is legendary, here and abroad.
On his deep and sincere feelings toward Israel:
Israel is a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.
Coming from the mouth of Barack Obama?!
On the strength of our alliances:
Our alliances have never been stronger.
I suspect England, Poland and Israel, to name but a few, might beg to differ.
On Mr. Romney’s comments about Mr. Obama’s serial apologizing for America on foreign soil:
Nothing Governor Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign. And every fact checker and every reporter who’s looked at it, Governor, has said this is not true.
Mr. Obama’s apology tours have been well documented, and when Mr. Romney nailed him on that fact, Mr. Obama changed the subject by talking about visiting our troops.
…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 at under 285. We’re headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me.
Mr. Obama (answering in a sing-song, childishly taunting and nasty manner):
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 ships.
Mr. Obama’s answer was not only childish and boorish, it betrays a complete lack of understanding of naval warfare and tactical requirements. Aircraft carriers are powerful, but also enormous targets that must be accompanied and protected by battle groups of many different types of ships, including submarines. All ships need supply vessels of many kinds, and capital ships like aircraft carriers are deep water vessels. Our Navy does not operate only in the world’s major oceans. Mr. Obama’s taunt was particularly foolish in that small numbers of Special Forces operators—on horseback–brought down the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama’s Bidenesque behavior will not endear him to adults, and particularly not to women.
Mr. Romney appropriately dealt with the sequestration issue:
And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is a combination of the budget cuts the president has, as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is making — is making our future less certain and less secure.
Mr. Obama pretended that he had nothing to do with sequestration, and claimed that it won’t happen, as though he has the power to stop it. If the Congress doesn’t act, it will happen, and he has threatened to prevent congressional action to stop the sequestration unless Republicans agree to class warfare tax increases on the “wealthy.” Let’s not forget he demanded it as a means of pressuring Republicans to give him what he wanted. He has been more than happy to hold our military readiness hostage in the furtherance of wealth redistribution and class warfare from the beginning:
First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.
In response to Mr. Obama’s claim that he has not apologized for America, Mr. Romney said:
Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
In response to Mr. Obama’s claims of a strong relationship with Israel, Mr. Romney said:
I mean, the president received a letter from 38 Democrat senators saying the tensions with Israel were a real problem. They asked him, please repair the tension — Democrat senators — please repair the tension.
Mr. Obama had no response.
On our influence in the world:
…nowhere in the world is America’s influence greater today than it was four years ago.
On Mr. Obama’s record with our allies:
I think the tension that existed between Israel and the United States was very unfortunate.
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.
When Mr. Obama accused Mr. Romney of saying Russia was American’s greatest enemy, Mr. Romney corrected his misrepresentation and said:
Excuse me. It’s [Russia] a geopolitical foe, and I said in the same — in the same paragraph I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin. And I’m certainly not going to say to him, I’ll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election, he’ll get more backbone.
In the final debate, Mr. Obama gained little or nothing and Mr. Romney was able to appear presidential. For those undecided voters willing to actually consider Mr. Romney, he likely swung many of them on the strength of his three debate performances, with this final debate clinching the deal. He made it plain that he is not only well informed, but that he has the character and temperament to handle the job. Mr. Obama did not succeed in arresting his slide in the polls. His aura of invincibility and inevitability is long gone, lost at the first debate, and the subsequent debates did nothing to help him.
There are a variety of October Surprises supposedly waiting in the wings to be sprung by such characters as Donald Trump and Gloria Alred, but whether they will have any effect remains to be seen. With a man as squeaky clean as Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign may have to resort to “big lie” falsehoods in the hope that something, anything, will stick and help arrest their downhill slide.
No rational candidate could walk off the stage believing he beat Mr. Romney in this debate, but with Mr. Obama, any amount of self-delusion is possible. He actually believed he won the first debate.
What also remains to be seen is whether the American public is willing to endure four more years living in Mr. Obama’s self-delusion. After the four debates, it appears the public may finally be waking up, and Mr. Obama’s desperate performance in this debate suggests he senses it.