If a debate is like boxing, last night, I had hoped for a brawl. I had hoped for a no-holds-barred teardown of Barack Obama’s foreign policy of appeasement, anti-Americanism and embarrassing meddling. I had hoped to see Romney tear into Obama for his administration’s failures to protect our diplomats and consulates. I had had hoped to see a real fight. Instead, I was treated to a smart victory- something that helped keep safe Mitt Romney’s lead that will deliver him to the White House. That satisfaction will last longer.
Anyone who knows me knows I love boxing. I’ve made references to the sweet science before as I firmly believe that like boxing, debate is a simple form of combat that requires minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master. After I watched the debate last night, I thought, “That’s not how I would have played it… That’s better than my idea.”
I cannot attest to what, exactly, President Obama’s debate prep consisted of. However, I can reasonably assume that it consisted of a fair amount of preparation for how to defend against the accusations of ineptitude and cover-ups in Libya- both, of which, seem more and more apparent with each passing day.
Obama had tried to feign outrage during the second presidential debate at the insinuation that there had been any purposeful misleading in the aftermath of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi. President Obama’s laughable counter-attack to distract Americans from his administration’s utter foreign policy failures has been to accuse Romney of “politicizing” the attack. This time, I speculate that President Obama was fully prepared to counter-attack Romney. If this was boxing, Obama needed to land a knockout punch.
So, Romney did what any fighter would do if he had won the previous rounds and he was heading into the last round- he played it safe. Romney didn’t have to win by knockout; he was already winning by decision. With Gallup putting Romney comfortably ahead and with Romney having more electoral votes in the projections, Romney needed to not screw up majorly. Getting drawn into a debate on whether or not he was being insensitive by “politicizing” attacks would not help him. So, Governor Romney did what any good fighter would do and moved in only for safer, well-guarded punches, never allowing Obama the opportunity to land his knockout punch. Romney played it smart.
He moved the conversation to discussions of what to do with Iran- a decidedly safer topic. Mostly, however, he proved yet again that he could command the direction of the debate and moved the discussion into domestic issues for much of the debate. While this was a refresher course for many, it was likely more exciting for the average undecided voter as many cannot relate to foreign policy issues as it is ever-changing, complex and often does not immediately affect our day-to-day lives. By moving the discussion to domestic issues, Romney provided himself another opportunity to outline his domestic agenda while simultaneously highlighting the fact that President Obama does not have one.
Romney played it safe and was not reckless. He stayed smiling and outlining the issues while still having the patience to not take the bait. While many casual observers might note that the contest came out a draw or perhaps a narrow Romney victory, I submit that it was a stunning and, at times, boring strategic victory that safeguarded Romney’s lead.
It was a strategy that I would not have recommended, but I would have been wrong.