The score is, apparently, tied: Mitt Romney decisively won the first presidential debate against President Obama, and Obama beat Romney in their rematch, at New York's Hofstra University Tuesday night. The tiebreaker will take place on Monday night, a foreign policy showdown in Boca Raton, Fla. — and the pressure is on both candidates to win. It's too soon to know if Obama's comeback will give him a lift in the polls, but a Romney victory in a forum about foreign policy — not his strong suit — could provide the edge he needs in a very tight race for the White House. Here are five things he can do to beat Obama:
1. Get a better attack on Libya
In the second debate, Romney flubbed a perfectly teed-up attack on Team Obama's reaction to the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya — and it was mostly because he got bafflingly lost in "a conservative talking point about just exactly when Obama had called the attacks 'terrorism,' a talking point that has the twin advantages of being both pointless and factually incorrect," says Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post. Benghazi is "an issue that should work well for the challenger," with "a variety of attacks available" to Romney. Libya will certainly come up again in the Florida debate, says Will Inboden at Foreign Policy, so Romney has a second chance to show how this scandal undermines Obama's claims about beating the terrorists.
2. Explain how his prescriptions are different from Obama's
"Enough already about the attack on our mission in Benghazi," says Trudy Rubin at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Romney hasn't exactly impressed voters with his stabs at foreign policy, and if he wants to be taken seriously we need to hear thoughtful ideas about the important issues America faces in the world. (Hint: Fingering an under-funded mid-level State Department official for denying a request for more diplomatic security in an unstable country isn't one of them.) What should we do about Pakistan? How should we handle the democratic rise of Islamists in Egypt? What would President Romney do differently on Syria than President Obama? "Whatever the weaknesses of Obama on these issues, I've heard no clear alternatives from Romney, and no recognition of the global changes of the last decade."
3. Stop working the ref
Romney's "solid performance" in the second debate was undermined by classic Mitt mistakes, says Ana Navarro at CNN. "He continuously became the moderator," asking Obama and even himself questions, and worse, "he tried enforcing the debate rules, which he has a tendency to do and is awkward about it." In the third debate, Romney must at all costs avoid repeating the "constant interruption" of the moderator and the president — "his peevish, 'Hall Monitor Mitt' persona" — so damningly evident at the Hofstra debate, says John Avlon at CNN. He lost style points, but these "intense awkward interjections" also play terribly with swing voters "and women in particular."
4. Hammer Obama on Fast and Furious
In the second debate, Romney dropped the issue of the botched government gun-walking operation Fast and Furious "like a grenade in the middle of a verbal joust over gun control," but "Crowley jumped in and deflected the conversation," says "Gun Rights Examiner" Dave Workman at Examiner.com. Romney should bring it up again at the next debate, so voters can "get some answers" from Obama. "Fast and Furious definitely falls within the realm of foreign policy," since it "allowed some 2,000 firearms to enter the illicit market, cross illegally into a neighboring country without that government's knowledge, and feed a bloody drug war that still rages today."
5. Turn the conversation to the economy
This election isn't going to be decided on foreign policy, and Romney doesn't want it to — Obama did, after all, preside over the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Romney can bring the debate back to where Republicans want it to be: On the U.S. economy and jobs. After all, "you can't discuss foreign policy without talking about our nation's finances," says Greta Van Susteren at GretaWire. America has "been reduced to almost international panhandlers asking for other countries — mostly China — to lend us some cash," and that saps our influence. If Romney makes the case that "a country that is broke has a difficult time showing moral authority," he wins.