Passive Romney Misses Chance to Seize Victory in Third Debate? My Notes and Observations


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Approaching this third and final Presidential Debate in 2012, I am led to believe that the challenger Mitt Romney needs to score a victory in this debate and appear to voters as more competent and Presidential and a better Commander-in-Chief than President Obama. The media is in the bag on this one and will score a tie or even an Obama loss as an ‘Obama win’, and President Obama has the advantage of being able to tout over and over that ‘he killed bin Laden’, so Romney faces some formidable challenges. The President has access to information and can use hypothetical scenario’s, no matter how implausible, to attack the Governor, while the Governor an rely on actual events and the administration’s responses to these events to portray Obama as unfit for command. We’re probably in store for another battle of reality vs rhetoric, results vs slander/lies, and an epic matchup of the real world vs bizarro world. This is it- Romney needs a victory before this large audience to sway Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, and other swing states- let’s see if he is able to do this and highlight the foreign policy failures of our hapless and inept President- while also battling a likely heavily leftist moderator.

Here are my thoughts and notes and observations on the debate:

  • Governor Romney is forced to start by defending his statements about Obama’s policy. The start is rather rough- he started out shaky and fell back to material that sounded as if came from a speech. He needed to come out charging and instead it appears that he is playing it safe and going with a simple list of the failures of Obama’s policies. He just said we’re going to continue to do what Obama has done- “we just can’t kill our way out of this situation”- but that isn’t going to sell very well. Obama gets to say ‘I’m glad you agree that I’ve done a great job of killing the bad guys’- Romney should not have soft-served this one to Obama.
  • President Obama does not answer the question about Libya and whether or not his policies there a success there. He summarizes his actions as making a phone call to make sure everything was being done, issued a memo to conduct an investigation, and told someone to put together a speech about how he is going to catch the bad guys- and then went to bed, satisfied that he had done all the ‘work’ that goes into being a President. A lot of rhetoric followed this.
  • Someone told Romney to be wonkish and a policy analyst on this debate and appear to be ‘more Presidential’- but he is not doing so by really going after Obama. Oh, he is talking about a lack of progress in the Middle East- but not pinning it on Obama. The media isn’t going to do this- Romney is going to have to do this.
  • Obama on the other hand has come out hard-charging and attacking Romney, quoting him and putting him on the defensive, listing all of his positions- not ‘bad results’ but blaming Romney directly- this is sounding much better and is more effective. As a side note, the ‘social policies’ of the 1950’s led to important advances for minorities with Brown vs Board of Education and a Voting Rights Act and the ‘economic policies’ of the 1920’s led to a booming economy before it collapsed under FDR. Obama is a replay of the social policies under LBJ and a replay of the economic policies under FDR- neither of which I would consider a success.
  • Romney is letting Obama frame him- putting words in his mouth and then walking away, assuming that this frame will stick. Romney needs to do a better job rejecting this frame while also framing Obama. Obama wins this first exchange by quite a bit, and perhaps the election, letting him rip off lines like “one thing I have learned as commander-in-chief” without Romney replying back anything worthwhile. The Libya topic comes and goes without Romney landing a blow- what a blown opportunity- he was not properly prepared on this and assumes that the American people wanted a policy discussion instead of a political debate show. Obama gets in the last word on this exchange.
  • Question to Obama- talk about your successes and why your policies have been great towards Syria. A lot of rhetoric here, nothing of note.
  • Romney jumps into a discussion on the importance of Syria- no one cares about this. This was an opportunity to be critical of Obama’s policies, not to have a discussion on the sort of right policies to enact here. Romney is playing defense, and I think he needed to play offense instead. General vague phrases like ‘we need better policies’ should have been stated as ‘President Obama has pushed for bad policies here such as’ blah blah. Less about what we should be doing, and more about what President Obama is not doing. Another missed opportunity for Romney- and Obama was able to jump back onto Libya and hammer Romney on this issue- Romney didn’t do this and that was another miss. Obama won this exchange too and again comes off looking more Presidential. Obama gets in the last word, although the moderator tries to help out Romney by asking him about his policies- sadly, no one cares about our policies in Syria, we care about why your policies are better than Obama’s, and that was not established except as a glancing and side blow at the end. Oh, Obama gets the last word after all on this exchange.
  • Question to Obama- Do you have any regrets about pushing Mubarack out in Egypt? Obama says no, linking his actions to JFK and historical movements for democracy, and then even though it has turned out he gets to say a bunch of stuff about how he wants the region to improve (as if his words and thoughts can become reality without hard work and good policies). Romney needs to come back with “You helped push one of our historical allies out of power and led to radical Muslim groups taking more control of Egypt and destabilized the region”.
  • Romney instead comes back with “I agree with the President” and suggests that he would have also relied on rhetoric about freedom and such. Another missed change. No criticism on Obama in his answer, instead a rough transition about what his larger vision is on a range of issues. He’s talking about the economy now, debt, Iran, and foreign policy- what a mess. I am so disappointed that by his performance tonight- I thought he won the first debates, but this one is a mess for Romney so far- and we’re 30 minutes into it. Here was a chance to talk about the rape of our reporters, the rise of fundamentalists, the attacks on Coptic Churches, etc- and instead we got a lot of rhetoric. Obama gives us this kind of crap and does it better- Romney is coming off as tired and worn and scattered.
  • Question- What is our role in the world? Romney gives a confusing and sprawling answer- he is so unfocused, jumping from subject to subject. Obama is looking serious and locked in, Romney is sounding edgy and not calm. No attacks on Obama, letting him not play any defense at all. Obama gets to simply give a stock speech and engage in attacks on Romney.
  • Romney gets a little bit more excited and with it on talking about the economy- I am surprised at the difference in his tone of voice and passion with this topic switch- he nails his facts and lays down some good attacks. But Obama is clever and switched the topic over to education policy- don’t take the bait on this one, Governor- stick to going back to the economy and don’t get sucked into this argument about ‘how government can support teachers’. Obama spews off usual stuff about ‘government support for education’, even though the federal government plays such a tiny role in providing support for education. Romney took the bait though and instead talked about education successes- but didn’t link this back to the economy and didn’t do anything to hammer Obama. Obama interrupted the Governor several times during this exchange.
  • Question- How will we pay for an increased military? Romney talks about what he would cut- he should just do the usual Obama trick and say ‘I’m going to cut out fraud and waste and magically save billions of dollars’. Romney about a minute into his answer and Obama cuts him off over and over again- and Romney lets him. Obama gets to frame Romney’s policies again and just throw around numbers and information, coming off in control of the situation. I can’t believe that Romney discussed this topic without mentioning sequestration! In discussing Romney’s budget, I think that Obama did his usual accounting move and added trillions together multiple times- Obama’s ‘5 trillion short’ number included already military increases and balancing the budget, yet here Obama added those to the 5 trillion number. Romney never answered the original question about how to pay for the increased military- the libertarians and Ron Paul people aren’t going to like this exchange. I score this exchange another win for Obama. Obama gets in the last word on this exchange, and gets to make a mockery of Romney’s plans by arguing them to absurdity, suggesting that having a smaller navy is the same thing as having less horse cavalry or less bayonets, pretending that having less destroyers and aircraft carriers and cruisers is the same thing as having less of obsolete technology. Romney gets no chance to rebut these attacks. At this point, I think that Obama has spoken a lot more than Romney has and seems to be dominating the time of possession.
  • Obama- “As long as I’m President, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon”, relying on sanctions and economic embargo’s. Obama is looking rather strong here, saying that he will not take any options off the table, while also saying that he is less militant than Romney. Romney has an option- either being stronger and more militant or appealing to moderates and independents by being smarter and less militant. Romney instead falls into policy discussions and ways to manage the situation. A bunch of policy options is no match for Obama pounding on the fact that he’s sent young men into battle, killed bin Laden, and is commander-in-chief right now. Romney’s not President yet, and won’t be unless he reverses the trend of this debate, so all of that is well and good but he needed to go after Obama.
  • President Obama talks about Iran and how we should deal with Iran, attempting to frame Romney as some sort of fool. Romney has an opening though- Obama’s failure to support the Iranian people during the Green Revolution. Obama said that he would ‘stand by the Iranian’ people- but here was a clear and visible time he did not. Romney should charge through here and hammer Obama on this. Romney instead talks about Iran’s views on our current administration- a great chance for him to bring up the fact that the Iran government has endorsed Obama and supports his re-election. In his answer there was a passing reference to both the Green Revolution and Iran’s support of Obama, but his overall argument- that Obama was weak in the beginning- was not a very strong argument- he needed to argue that Obama is weak NOW. Obama’s reply is that Romney is a liar and says his favorite line in every debate that “every fact-checker has looked into that claim and said that it’s simply not true” and gets to defend his actions in the Green Revolution. Romney gets into a discussion about the apology tour, but weakly lands blows on this. Obama replies with a bunch of rhetoric and deep-sounding words, avoiding the fact that there were real policy implications for his apology tour, and frames the debate once again. Obama gets the last word in on this exchange.
  • Romney demonstrates that he understands the role of a CEO for real- that there wouldn’t be some sort of call out of the blue saying that Israeli bombers are in the air about to bomb Iran. Obama would have had some sort of smart sounding answer for that, belaying the fact that it would have been out of the blue for him because he has not forged any relationship with any major leaders around the world and because he has not done the hard work- going to meetings, reading memo’s, etc- needed. Obama replies by framing Romney as some sort of extremist, flip-flopping, and lying fool, connecting various speeches without any context and just cherry-picking lines and stringing them together nicely. I’m sorry- it’s powerful stuff when Obama rolls off these sort of insincere, calculating, ambitious, disingenuous, philistine, and hypocritical attacks. He is an audacious fellow, our President, and with no principals or soul he has the ability to lay blows on this like Romney without worry about the fact that pretty much everything that he said was not true. Obama gets the last word in this exchange, Romney does not get a chance to reply to any of these charges, letting the lie stand. LETTING THE LIE STAND. Another win for Obama. This moderator is much better than the other ones in helping out Obama, throwing him softball questions and giving him the last word on every exchange, which are much more subtle but no less powerful means of injecting bias into a debate.
  • Question is about Afghanistan. Romney talked, nothing notable in there, I’ve already forgotten what he said. Obama gets to roll off usual nice-sounding lines. This is the perfect debate for him- a lot of pretty words and stories without having to defend his results and with the moderator helping to end the conversation after Obama drops a good line or series of lies. Obama got the last word in on this exchange.
  • Romney asked a question about Pakistan, answered the question with a lot of solid policies and well-thought out ideas. No attacks on Obama though and Obama is going to get the last word and the ability to say ‘Romney flipped on this’ or that ‘Romney now likes my policies.’ I can only hope that the American people were looking to this debate for policies and looking Presidential and will find Obama to be boorish and rude. Obama is comfortable, in his zone, and not at all flustered by Romney, who isn’t even looking at Obama any more. It’s almost as if Romney doesn’t know why he won the first debate and scored a win in the second- he’s talking to the moderator and just saying stuff- that isn’t how to defeat a skilled sophist like Obama. Obama gets in the last word on this exchange.
  • China- Obama is positioning himself as some sort of right-wing protectionist on Chinese trade. Obama pretends that he has some sort of positive leverage on China, ignoring the fact that we are borrowing money from them, cutting out military, and are abandoning our commitments around the world. That’s the usual ignore reality stuff that Romney needed needed to go after, instead Romney talks about these issues as if they are not Obama’s fault, as if they are happening in some sort of a vacuum- he is looking past Obama.
  • Moderator follows up on a Romney point by pointing out the other side- yet hasn’t done that the whole debate for any of Obama’s points- he never offered an alternative viewpoint or an argument against Obama’s points. I guess this is better than an incorrect fact-check, but still, it would be nice to have a fair moderator one of these debates. Obama gets the last word in on this issue, getting to talk about how he (using taxpayer money and ignoring all the failures that he dumps on taxpayers) was able to build businesses here (as if this is the same thing as a private businessman doing it!). No one is really going to care about currency manipulation and these complicated ideas- I wonder if Obama might be right in betting that Americans are uneducated and ignorant and can be easily fooled by words and shiny objects.
  • Regarding Romney’s stance on bankruptcy, Obama says that Romney did not want the auto companies to get any government help- let’s go to the record on this one- in Romney’s editorial he says “The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing”- although Obama is correct and Romney does not say ‘bailouts without conditions for private companies’, Romney is correct that he felt that the federal government should provide guarantees, I assume loan guarantees, to the auto companies that emerge form bankruptcy restructured and stronger. That might have been a better approach than Obama’s, which was give a blank check to some companies and not others, play politics with those companies, and seize control of GM for the unions and the government. One approach relies on capitalism and free markets, and the other in a perverted economic system that could be described as some sort of third way alliance of big labor-big government- and big business. Obama got the last word on this subject.
  • Closing arguments- a lot of rhetoric from Obama, nice sounding phrases, keep trying, Romney’s bad, etc etc. Romney’s closing argument was less passion filled and more confident sounding than his earlier ones- he has got to get the fear back into him, the fear that he might lose, and that might have motivated him more- he sounds like he is targeting moderates and independents with this debate.

This debate was probably not for him- if it was, I would score it as a solid win for Obama. He was able to get the last word in on every subject, able to blast away with little reply from Romney, and Romney had a very laid back and measured strategy. The after-debate commentary is that Romney was trying to simply ‘hug’ Obama, as a boxer who has a lead in points does towards the end of a boxing match.

I don’t think Romney did what he needed to do in this debate to win the election- I think he got some bad advice on this one. Obama was aggressive, critical, petty, and had a lot of good lines- will this win moderate and independent voters or scare or turn them off?

CNN is talking about how Obama anticipated Romney’s move to the center and was ready for it, FOX is talking about how Romney might have surprised Obama by his passive and moderate approach in this debate. I can’t watch CNN any more- they are just bashing Romney and continuing Obama’s attacks on him instead of providing real analysis. FOX is back to looking at what the candidates said and their attitude in the debate, having people chime in with their views on who won, doing some fact-checking, and looking into focus groups. Chris Wallace echoed my thoughts- he said that anyone who just tuned in today would have thought that Romney was sitting on a big lead instead of playing the challenger role. Flipped back to CNN and watched them fact-check some of the debate- many of Obama’s claims against Romney are true but missing important and vital context that undermines that truth, many of Romney’s claims against Obama were mostly true both in context and principle.

Obama 42 minutes, Romney 41 minutes. Shocking- all four debates, advantage Democrat in time, and could have been higher if Romney hadn’t talked over Obama and the moderator several times. All four moderators biased in favor of the Democrats to some degree, some more so than others.

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Please feel free to quote and reference my notes and observations in your own posts on this debate. Tinyurl link:

UPDATE: CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER may have made me feel a little bit better about Romney’s debate performance. Here is what he wrote:

…I think it’s unequivocal, Romney won. And he didn’t just win tactically, but strategically. Strategically, all he needed to do is basically draw. He needed to continue the momentum he’s had since the first debate, and this will continue it. Tactically, he simply had to get up there and show that he’s a competent man, somebody who you could trust as commander in chief, a who knows every area of the globe and he gave interesting extra details, like the Haqqani network, which gave the impression he knows what he’s talking about. But there is a third level here, and that is what actually happened in the debate. 

We can argue about the small points and the debating points. Romney went large, Obama went very, very small, shockingly small. Romney made a strategic decision not go after the president on Libya, or Syria, or other areas where Obama could accuse him of being a Bush-like war monger. Now I would have gone after Obama on Libya like a baseball bat, but that’s why Romney has won elections and I’ve never had to even contested them. He decided to stay away from the and I think that might have actually worked for him….

Last election a candidate who I liked not do every little thing needed to win and he ended up losing by the smallest of margins, so I really am trusting that Romney knows what he was doing in this debate.

Original Post:  A Conservative Teacher

  • I hope the debates are not really making that much of a difference to the voters, most sane and reasonable people should have made up their minds by now. Ultimately you can’t say rather go with the devil you know than the one you don’t because republican is worse than obama.

    If people are silly enough to give obama another chance, I truly feel sorry for America.