The Foreign Policy Debate: Blog Reax

Fallows thought "Obama did very well this evening, and Romney put up his worst showing":

As a matter of substance, it was depressing in principle that this was the level of presidential-campaign discussion on China, India (nothing, or close to it), climate change and the environment (nothing I heard), energy (next to nothing), Europe (ditto). But it was more striking as a matter of substance that on virtually no issue did Romney make an actual criticism, of any sort, of Obama's policy or record. Instead it was, "I agree, but you could have done it better."

Ambinder sees Romney's eagerness to agree with Obama as a possible mistake:

Romney was betting that he did not need to take risks, and stands a better shot at winning the election the more people associate him with the economy.  Deciding to let Obama once again be the aggressor carries real risks, because of the large audience, and because the contrasts in tone between the two candidates could be large enough that some voters who initially thought Romney crossed the credibility threshold might have second thoughts.

Matthew Dickinson is unsure how much Obama helped himself:

It is clear that Romney’s goal tonight was to appear as a credible commander-in-chief. To do so, he sought to avoid coming across as too militaristic, and instead adopted a policy of “me tooism” by essentially coopting the President’s policy stances while avoiding staking out any detailed policies of his own. The President, in contrast, acted more as a challenger who knows he is in potential trouble. I think he probably scored more points, and had more memorable lines (horses and bayonets!) but the risk is that his tone, which bordered on sarcasm at time, might not have won over the undecided voters.

Will Wilkinson argues that there "were two debates tonight":

Officially, it was a foreign-policy debate, and I think Mr Obama won it, narrowly, neither ceding the incumbent's natural advantage nor gaining any real ground. Mr Romney, I think, won the impromptu debate on the economy, narrowly, pressing the challengers' advantage by reminding voters that they've suffered economically during Mr Obama's tenure while striking an appealing hopeful note and again pitching himself as a guy who knows how to clean up a mess. Add it all up and I think we have a push. Both candidates seemed to behave as though Mr Romney had the momentum coming into the debate. If that's so, I don't think Mr Obama's performance was quite strong enough to slow Mr Romney down.

Taegan Goddard believes that "Obama won the debate hands down":

As the debate went on, Romney tried many times to move the international affairs discussion back to the economy where he was more comfortable. It was as if he had only 30 minutes of foreign policy talking points for a 90 minute debate. As a result he seemed to string together random thoughts which often made him sound incoherent.

By the end, Josh Marshall felt Obama was in command:

The first half hour was a draw, though President Obama scored by default when Romney either didn’t or couldn’t attack on Libya. After that though Romney began to falter as Obama became more direct, organized and declarative. Romney seemed increasingly lost. Obama seemed comfortable, happy. The visuals told the story.

Andrew Sprung judges the performances:

Romney could not be wiped off the stage.  But Obama brought his A-game, and trumped him on fundamentals, effectively rebutting every charge of weakness, coming off every inch the seasoned, tested leader, and, crucially, puncturing some of Romney's most enduring lies, effectively calling Romney a liar to his face. 

Mark Kleiman's verdict:

Obama landed some heavy blows, while Romney maundered; in a sane world, Obama would count as the clear winner. In the actual world, more or less a draw. Romney’s capacity not to notice when he’s had a hole blown in him is astounding.

Stanley Kurtz argues that Romney "at least won his tie, and maybe even inched out victory by a nose":

Obama has got to be concerned now. He held up his end well enough, but the president needed more than that to halt Romney’s momentum. Romney has now decisively established himself as a credible alternative to Obama. At a moment when the public thinks this country is headed in the wrong direction, that spells serious trouble for the incumbent.

After watching the debate, Bill Kristol predicts that Romney will be the next president:

Romney is now on track to becoming the third challenger to win in the last 32 years—and the first in 80 years to defeat an incumbent who didn't have a primary challenge. Tonight, Romney seems as fully capable as—probably more capable than—Barack Obama of being the next president. He probably will be.

Richard Adams gives the win to Romney:

I'd say Romney won it because he just lashed away at Obama without regard to subject or logic, showed that he knew enough about what passes for foreign policy that he's not going to fart in front of the Queen or whatever. And Obama did what he did in the first debate: lay out Romney's multiple positions and expect that would be enough. Well it wasn't then and it wasn't now.

Kevin Drum disagrees:

Romney's main goal tonight was pretty transparent: not to sound like a warmonger. He probably succeeded in that, but at the price of turning every attack into mush and validating nearly everything Obama said. It just didn't seem like a good night for him. I'd give him a C+ and Obama an A-.

Matt Taibbi's final thoughts:

Just going by the reactions from Carville and Fleischer on CNN (I've switched back because that's where you go to find out the conventional wisdom) it's already clear what the talking points will be. Fleischer talking about how this debate doesn't matter because the public is focused on the economy, that's a clear signal that he knew Romney fucked the dog tonight. This should be the death-blow to Romney, but I've said that before and been wrong.

Sabato wonders if it's enough:

The question is, how big did Obama win? Not nearly as big as Romney in the first debate, obviously. But by a decent margin — more than debate two. Do two debate wins on points equal a giant win? No. And that’s Obama’s problem. Voters know him, and they didn’t know Romney — the first debate gave him a chance to make a first impression, and he nailed it. Obama isn’t going to deteriorate further because of this debate: If he goes down to defeat, it will be for other reasons. Meanwhile, it’s doubtful Romney did any real damage to himself, although his attempts to explain his position on the auto bailout — a key issue in vital Ohio — again fell flat.

Ezra Klein digs up Romney's "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op-ed:

You can read it here. Note that Romney calls for post-bankruptcy guarantees, not pre-bankruptcy guarantees. That’s the rub: The credit markets were frozen, and most experts thought Detroit couldn’t find the private financing to survive a masnaged bankruptcy. That’s where federal money came in. Glenn Kessler fact-checked the exchange and gave the edge to Obama.

Larison's perspective:

Overall, Obama had the better of the debate, but Romney made no fatal errors and went out of his way to claim that he was deeply concerned to promote peace. If viewers were already inclined not to believe Romney’s hawkish campaign rhetoric, Romney’s debate performance provides some encouragement to them. If one assumes that Romney was just downplaying his hawkish positions for the sake of a general election audience, there was nothing that Romney said tonight that was at all reassuring.

Greenwald calls it a "wretched debate, with almost no redeeming qualities":

The vast majority of the most consequential foreign policy matters (along with the world's nations) were completely ignored in lieu of their same repetitive slogans on the economy. When they did get near foreign policy, it was to embrace the fundamentals of each other's positions and, at most, bicker on the margin over campaign rhetoric.

Joe Klein argues that "Obama didn’t have a single weak or unconvincing moment":

President Obama won the foreign policy debate, cleanly and decisively, on both style and substance. It was a clear a victory as Mitt Romney‘s in the first debate. And Romney lost in similar fashion: he seemed nervous, scattered, unconvincing–and he practiced unilateral disarmament, agreeing with Obama hither and yon…on Iraq (as opposed to two weeks ago), on Afghanistan (as opposed to interviews he’s given this fall), on Libya and Syria and Iran.

And Tomasky puts the debate in perspective:

Tuesday, it’s back to Detroit and the bailout (not that we left it), back to the economy, back to the ad wars and the ground games that are going to grind this thing out anyway. This wasn’t much more than a diversion. Obama won it, but the important question is whether it will matter that he won it, or, did Romney meet a certain threshold and that’s enough for enough swing voters.