Last night America saw a president in command and a challenger in retreat from his own positions. Obama dominated the stage and the discussion at Lynn University.
He emerged the clear victor.
In what was once the Republican’s strong suit, the Romney/Ryan campaign tonight completed their complete capitulation on foreign policy in the 2012 election.
As he has done throughout the month of October, Romney abandoned numerous positions throughout the night. The biggest piece of news from the debate was Romney’s capitulation on Afghanistan. On the rare occasion that Romney takes up foreign policy during the campaign it always includes a critique of Obama’s decision to give a date certain for withdrawal from America’s longest war.
Through the night’s discussion another key difference was revealed between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama: only President Obama that talks about our troops and their families when discussing foreign policy.
Tonight Mitt Romney failed the “Troop Test.” He showed himself to be inconsistent, unprincipled, on every side of the issue and not serious about the world we live in today. That is the kind of attitude that endangers our soldiers.
Romney preferred to focus on the robotic delivery of a the few talking points that he returned to repeatedly. He also seemed to have prepared for this debate with word association cue cards that matched countries with a specific group or word that he regurgitated in his answers.
Meanwhile Obama used Romney’s record to methodically dissect his opponent. Romney sat across the table and took the criticism lying down.
Obama showed a command of the issues and dealt with questions with toughness and precision.
While Romney ran from his record, President Obama delivered a number of global lessons to his ambitious opponent.
The most brutal may have been in response to Romney’s talking point about the military having fewer ships than a century ago thereby, in Romney’s estimation, proving the weakness of our Navy.
Obama stepped in and chastised Romney for not understanding the military, reminding him that we have fewer horses and bayonets than we had in 1918 also and that there are these things called aircraft carriers and submarines now.
There was no fight in Mitt Romney tonight and, most pathetically, Romney did not even push back that he understood how the military works.
If you cannot make a powerful argument about our military in a presidential debate you are not prepared for the world stage.
Romney also made an embarrassing mistake when it came to basic geography. He referred to Syria as Iran’s access to the sea – ignoring the basic fact that Iran sits on the Persian Gulf.
Not since Gerald Ford asserted that Russia would not dominate Eastern Europe in a Ford Administration has a Republican said something so fundamentally stupid about the way the world is.
Romney again tried to criticize the president for traveling to the Middle East early in his administration and not traveling to Israel. Obama was again ready with a crushing reply that he traveled to Israel not with campaign donors on a junket but as a way of preparing to be president and command our troops.
Again, Romney took the punches and moved on.
In the first debate I wrote that the president seemed to be employing a boxing strategy called rope-a-dope, letting Romney talk and talk putting himself in an indefensible rhetorical place by the end of the night.
If these three matches started with a rope-a-dope strategy they ended with Romney clutching his opponent and agreeing with every Obama policy and strategy, trying to toss the occasional rhetorical blow and surrendering when his opponent returned tougher blows in response.
Romney was just trying to survive the night.
But in the closing minutes the challenger had grown frustrated and impatient. Romney decided to revisit his “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” policy. It was the mistake of the night.
Romney seemed to feel unburdened by talking about business instead of boring issues of war and international relationships.
During his answer, showing a mix of arrogance and testiness, he admonished the president that “I’m still speaking” as he recreated his auto policy in a way that was completely divergent from the truth.
Flustered and frustrated Romney lashed out and told the biggest lie that could do him the most damage – claiming to have never walked away from the auto industry is laughable on its face.
Romney tried to pick himself back up with a rehearsed critique of Obama before the closing statements but the damage was done. He was stammering and at a loss following Obama’s critique.
The president closed describing the clear choice voters have in November, what is at stake and what the competing visions are between the two candidates.
Romney closed by delivering the worst prepared remarks since his Convention speech.
Once again, GOP surrogates seem lost about what to say. Earlier in the day, John McCain ripped Obama’s foreign policy on behalf of the Romney campaign. Then Mitt Romney walked on to the stage at Lynn University and undermined everything that McCain and other campaign supporters had been saying.
Ohio surrogate Rob Portman could not explain Romney’s latest version of his auto policy. Conservative foreign policy experts were baffled by Romney’s new positions.
It was a stunning reversal of positions for the two campaigns.
About Bill Buck
Bill Buck is a Democratic strategist, President of the Buck Communications Group, a media relations and new media strategies consulting business based in Washington, DC, and Managing Director of the online ad firm Influence DSP. He has over twenty years of international and national communications experience. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CBS Local.