President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney met for the third and final debate last night at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida to discuss foreign policy, though economic policy came up at times.
The candidates went back and forth on policy in the Middle East and toward China. Romney was given a chance during the first question to discuss Libya and the attack on the consulate that led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but he punted, letting Obama control the narrative on that particular issue.
Obama tried to paint Romney as someone who frequently changes positions when it’s convenient. Obama also explained several times that he didn’t believe in “nation-building,” saying that it was time for “nation-building at home.”
Romney turned the debate toward economic issues during a question about whether or not he would have stuck with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. While he answered the question, Romney segwayed, explaining, “[W]hen the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, says that our debt makes us not a great country, that’s a frightening thing.” Romney noted the words of Admiral Mike Mullen, who explained that the national debt is a security threat to the United States.
While noting this threat, Romney disappointed anyone who was hoping that he would put forward a viable solution to fix it. Romney explained, “I’m going through, from the very beginning, we’re going to cut about 5 percent of the discretionary budget excluding military.” As explained last week, that’s not at all a significant part of the budget, coming it at around $42 billion or so. So Romney’s great budget plan effectively does nothing.
The real news that came out of the debate was Obama denying reports that the United States would negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. And during the discussion on military spending, Obama explained that the looming sequestration cuts “will not happen,” adding that the “budget that we’re talking about is not reducing our military spending. It’s maintaining it.”
Obama hammered Romney on his budget plan, saying that it would drive the United States further into debt. The problem is that Obama has no credibility on this issue whatsoever after accumulating more than $5 trillion in budget deficits during his first term.
Obama tried to appear more hawkish, while Romney was trying to appear more likeable. Obama tried to cut in on Romney several times during the debate, coming almost apoplectic at points. Romney smiled and told Obama that he was still speaking.
There was no real difference on the overall foreign policy beliefs. Both endorsed interventionism and installing regimes favorable to the United States in countries perceived to be hostile. There was nuance, of course, but they were both endorsing a foreign policy that is very similar to that of George W. Bush.
Bob Schieffer did a solid job, despite one flub, when he accidentially said, “Obama bin Laden. The questions were good. He was fair to both sides, giving them almost equal talking time, and he managed to maintain control without seeming partial.
Personally, I thought the debate was a draw. Neither did any damage to the other. Romney came across calmer, but Obama had killing Osama bin Ladin in his pocket, and he played that card well and it resonated. But Obama also had to put up a fight, given the recent swing in polling to Romney’s advantage. That’s typically what a challenger does.
Post-debate polls, however, showed that Obama won. CNN gave Obama a 48/40 edge over Romney, though Emily Ekins notes that the two aren’t far apart on whether voters believe they can handle the responsibilities that come with the office and likeability. The post-debate poll from CBS News shows a bigger win for Obama over Romney, at 53/23.
Public Policy Polling’s survey was concentrated on swing states, where they found that undecided voters thought Obama won, 53/42. But hidden in the results of that poll is this question, which really shows how these voters viewed the debate:
At this point, undecideds make up a small number of voters. Most people have made up their minds. Of course, no candidate wants to lose potential support, especially when the race is so close. When it comes down to it, this debate isn’t going to make much of a difference. It’s hard to see the gains being made by Romney in swing states being wiped out, but it’s still going to be a close, close race.