Obama Wins Debate 3. It Might Not Matter

Blogging the Beltway: He bested Romney in the final match, but history shows that could be irrelevant.

Mitt Romney; President Barack Obama (Getty Images)
Mitt Romney; President Barack Obama (Getty Images)

(The Root) — The tweet by Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers said it best: “Whoever did Obama’s debate prep should get a raise.” While the first presidential debate was a clear win for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the second debate was widely seen as a slim win for President Barack Obama, the third and final debate, which focused on foreign policy, brought a clear win for President Obama.

The president dominated the debate from the outset, attacking Romney immediately with this barb: “And, you know, Gov. Romney, I’m glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after al-Qaida, but I have to tell you that, you know, your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East.” That was the first of many blows the president landed.

He delivered a number of zingers that captivated cyberspace before the debate had even concluded, among them this: “I think Gov. Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

This attack resulted in “bayonets” being among the most searched Google terms of the night immediately following the debate, according to Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast. It also spawned a number of satirical images, including this one of a mock Romney-Ryan campaign poster featuring bayonet wielding civil war re-enactors. Another image depicted Big Bird wielding a bayonet, a combination of two of the Obama campaign’s most memorable attacks in recent weeks. (Big Bird emerged as one of the stars of the first presidential debate.)  

There were times when Romney appeared so out of his element with the foreign policy focus that occasionally it was hard not to recall Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s performance in 2008. According to the book Game Change, which chronicled the 2008 presidential election and has been called accurate by senior McCain advisers, Palin memorized a series of lines for her debate against then-Sen. Joe Biden. She was instructed to “pivot” back to domestic issues within her comfort zone if she was asked about something she was not confident in discussing.

Time after time, Romney similarly attempted to pivot during last night’s debate. While both he and the president seemed more interested in discussing the economy at times — the defining issue of the election for most voters — the governor’s clumsy and insistent attempts at pivoting back toward domestic policy made it appear that he knew he couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the president on foreign policy, and therefore wasn’t going to try.