5 ways Obama can win the final presidential debate
Obama needs to beat Mitt Romney in their final debate. Luckily for the president, the foreign policy theme isn't Romney's strong suit
Monday night is the final presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, a foreign policy discussion hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer in Boca Raton, Fla. "Foreign policy isn't Romney's natural subject," says William Kristol at The Weekly Standard. "It's not his comfort zone," but he can "rise to the occasion," and he'd better: "If Romney can't win the foreign policy debate, he probably won't win" the election. Since that is, in fact, Obama's goal, what can he do to help Romney lose the debate? Here, five suggestions:
1. Have an answer for the Libya question
During the last debate, Romney choked on his attack over Obama's response to the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, says Charles Krauthammer at The Washington Post, but that was only a brief reprieve for the president. "Romney will be ready Monday" for his second shot. This time, Obama won't be able to use Romney's dumb fixation on the word "terrorism" to deflect questions about what he knew about the attack and when, says John Dickerson at Slate. He'll "have had nearly a week to come up with a better answer for Benghazi. Hopefully, when we hear it, it will finally have some ring of truth."
2. Press Romney on how he would act
"We can be sure that Romney will have a well-rehearsed answer" on Benghazi, says Paul Waldman at The American Prospect. And "I'll bet you anything it will center, like most of what Romney says about foreign policy, not on what we as a country should do but on what we should say." Every time Romney complains that Obama isn't "strong" or "resolute" enough or repeats his lie that Obama "apologizes for America," the president should ask how his challenger would act differently beyond just beating his chest louder.
3. Tie Romney's saber-rattling to Bush's wars
Romney's big goal will be "to make us seem less safe under Obama," which won't be an easy task, says Peter Lawler at First Things. Obama, on the other hand, "will spin every Romney injunction to be more tough into the dangerous and hugely costly impulse to interventionism that animated President Bush." That's a much easier sell. Romney had his shot to defuse that attack in the last debate, when a questioner asked him how he differed from Bush, says Daniel Larison at The American Conservative. He didn't, and given the available evidence, it's reasonable to conclude that "there aren't any major differences between Romney and Bush on foreign policy." If Obama's smart, he'll hammer that point hard.
4. Be prepared for the Etch-a-Sketch
Romney triumphed in the first debate in large part "by ditching the persona of a movement conservative," says Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy. "It was a deft move," and it clearly "stunned" Obama and knocked him off balance. "Can he do the same" on foreign policy? It wouldn't be easy — "for one thing, making a pivot to the center on foreign policy would entail embracing Obama's position even tighter than Romney already has," with some added "bluster." But Romney is playing to win, and winning involves moderating his tone for suburban women. Obama needs to be prepared for "Moderate Mitt," foreign policy edition.
5. Keep the focus on foreign policy
Romney isn't just bad on global affairs, he's terrible, says The American Conservative's Larison. "There are many things that aren't Romney's 'natural' subjects, but he doesn't struggle with any other kind of policy as much as he struggles with this one." That matters, because foreign policy is where a president has the most influence, and Romney has neglected to study the subject "to a remarkable degree for someone who has been running for president since 2006." Romney will try to turn the debate to the economy, his strongest suit, but if Obama (and Schieffer) can keep the focus overseas, voters who "haven't noticed the result of this neglect... will see it in Monday's debate."