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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Obama was clearly more at ease with the policy issues than Romney, and throughout the 90-minute showdown he upbraided Romney, nimbly and forcefully, as unprepared to lead. In an early line that largely summed up Obama’s treatment of his opponent throughout the debate, he turned to Romney and said: “I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”

The president also took pains to rebut Romney’s false attacks. He scored the line of the night by chastising Romney for his oft-repeated criticism that the U.S. Navy now has fewer ships than in 1916: “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”

The optics of the debate strongly favored President Obama as well. He appeared calm, confident, and eager to defend his record on foreign affairs. By contrast, Romney appeared to be perspiring, uncomfortable, and unsure what point he wanted to prove.

Still, Romney managed to avert disaster by preventing Obama from landing a decisive blow as he did at the second debate — notably, Romney didn’t utter the word “Benghazi” a single time — and by successfully steering the conversation from foreign policy to the friendlier territory of the economy. Much of the middle section of the debate was spent discussing the deficit, jobs, and education, and Romney tellingly avoided foreign policy altogether in his closing statement (instead giving an abridged version of his stump speech promising to jumpstart the economy.)

Ultimately, while President Obama scored a clear victory in the final presidential debate — an outcome that snap polls confirm — the damage could have been worse for Romney. Foreign policy has long been President Obama’s strongest selling point, and Romney’s weakest. By choosing to echo Obama’s popular policies instead of embrace the failed Bush doctrine, Romney picked the best of bad options — any of which would have led to a debate loss.

Six years into Romney’s quest for the White House, voters face the same problem as Romney’s own advisors. They still don’t know with any certainty what philosophy and policies the Republican would adopt if he ever enters the Oval Office.

Photo credit: AP/Evan Vucci

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