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October 23rd, 2012

Romney’s Strategy: Playing It Safe in Final Debate

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Written by: Kevin Hall
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Mitt Romney’s strategy for the third and final presidential debate was to appear more “presidential” and above the fray. He might have succeeded in that regard. However, that strategy did not hand Romney a clear debate victory.

People who wanted the GOP nominee to be the aggressor were sorely disappointed. The former Massachusetts governor was not trying to woo conservatives with this performance. He hoped to appeal to the last remaining vestiges of the undecided voters.

This was apparent from the very beginning of the debate. Instead of challenging the president for his failings and apparent cover-up regarding the Benghazi attacks, Romney largely ignored the situation. As conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer put it, he would have “taken a baseball bat” to Obama on Libya.

It’s an interesting analogy. Last week, Romney swung and missed when trying to criticize Obama on Libya. This week, Romney left his bat in the dugout.

Krauthammer still thought Romney won handily. Others disagree. A post-debate poll by CNN showed Obama winning 48%-40%. However, when you delve into the poll, regarding the question of who did the debate make you more likely to vote for, Romney edged Obama 25%-24%. Elsewhere, Fox News’ focus group thought Romney was much better on the economy, but Obama was much better on foreign policy.

The president’s strategy was completely different from his challenger’s. Obama criticized Romney from the start. He also came prepared for Romney’s criticisms regarding having the least amount of Navy ships since 1916. Obama mockingly pointed out that we also have fewer horses and bayonets, and the use of aircraft carriers makes the need for an armada of ships unnecessary. By the way, bayonets are still very much a part of the Marines weaponry, so bayonets are not quite as obsolete as our commander-in-chief made them sound.

President Obama’s trump card on foreign policy is giving the order to kill Osama Bin Laden. He did a very good job recalling that triumph. Obama also provided a powerful retelling of his visit to Ground Zero.

Romney certainly had some strong points, as even Obama-loving commentator Chris Matthews of MSNBC admitted. “Romney was very good on the economy. Obama didn’t seem to have a comeback on the economy,” Matthews said immediately after the debate.

One of the highlights for Romney was hammering Obama for his “apology tour” around the world. He rejected the president’s assertion that America “dictated” to other nations, noting that the U.S. “liberated” other nations. The GOP nominee also noted that Obama skipped Israel on that tour, and the Israelis noticed. There was a strong push from both sides for the Jewish vote throughout the debate.

There were a number of other criticisms Romney could have used that would have been more timely and perhaps served him better. Along with opting not to criticize the president on Benghazi, the Fast and Furious scandal never came up, nor did Romney mention President Obama being too busy to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month.

Early in the debate, Romney referenced a statement for then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen. He said in 2010 that the debt is the biggest threat to national security. Later, moderator Bob Schieffer asked each candidate what they believed was the biggest threat to national security. Instead of echoing Mullen’s sentiments, Romney answered “a nuclear Iran”. This was an excellent opportunity to pivot the discussion back to the economy and hammer President Obama on the debt. Romney did not take it.

The GOP nominee got to have the final words in the debate and his close was a good one, criticizing Obama’s handling of the economy, while also noting he has experience working in a bipartisan fashion, unlike the president.

Obama might not have come off very well to the viewers at home when he repeatedly tried to interrupt Romney. At one point, the former Massachusetts governor told the president, “Attacking me is not an agenda.” That was one of his best and most memorable lines from the debate.

The big question regarding this debate is how it will change the trajectory of the race. Momentum has been on Romney’s side since trouncing Obama in the first debate. That momentum might have slowed or halted after this debate. Whether or not it will turn back in the Democrat’s favor remains to be seen.

About the Author

Kevin Hall

Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor’s office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad’s 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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