Lee Haddigan and I write for The Hill today:
President Obama won the third debate, but did Mitt Romney win the White House on Monday night?
At times, as the debate progressed, Romney looked like a bystander, stage-struck to be so close to the actual president of the United States. Towards the end, before he recovered with a strong finish, Romney even began to babble, not quite sure what defence to mount against Obama's continual attacks on his flip-flopping in foreign policy statements. But, for all this...
Mitt Romney truly believes he can become commander in chief, convinced that the tide that turned in his favour after the first debate will continue through November 6.
Critics will rightly take apart the shallow, almost vacuous, sections of Romney's scripted responses --- his reduction of the Middle East and North Africa, time and again, to terrorists in Libya, Al Qa'eda in northern Mali, failure in Iraq, and Syria first and foremost as Tehran's ally and "Iran's route to the sea"; his inability to offer ideas beyond those mantras; his lack of interest or competence in taking the debate to most of the world beyond those two regions. They will smile at how the Republican’s invocation of a "strong defence" rebuffed by Obama's “horses and bayonets” line that his opponent was stuck in 1916: "Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our [current] military works.”
But the eventual fortune of a candidate does not necessarily rest on such a critique. Instead, what Mitt Romney accomplished was the neutralising of any arguments that he is a war-monger or a George W. Bush retread who can only exercise American leadership through military might. The surprise of the night was how often the Republican began his answers with “I don't blame the administration," or “I agree with the President,” before launching into an explanation of how his policies differed from Obama's primarily --- and, on occasions, only --- in the emphasis on that U.S. leadership.