In a presidential debate largely lacking the combativeness of last week's town hall, President Obama and Mitt Romney both seemed to achieve their goals in Monday's foreign-policy face-off.
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney each used Monday night’s third and final debate to try to close the deal with a divided American electorate.
In a debate without any glaring gaffes and largely held in a more congenial tone than the combative encounter of last week, both men seemed to accomplish what they may have set out to do: Mr. Romney to come across as an acceptable commander in chief, Mr. Obama to portray a successful presidency while planting seeds of doubt about a challenger who recently has had the momentum.
While the debate’s theme was ostensibly foreign policy, both candidates time and again brought their answers back to the domestic economy, jobs, and who would do the better job of building an America for the 21st century.
“After a decade of war, I think we all recognize we have to do some nation-building at home,” Obama said more than once.
“I certainly don’t want to go back to the policies of the last four years,” Romney retorted. “It hasn’t worked.”
Within that common goal of steering the discussion to the economy, each candidate seemed to have a particular agenda for the evening. The president seemed intent on portraying his challenger as someone “all over the map,” who lacks the kind of resolve required of the commander in chief. “You keep trying to airbrush history,” Obama told Romney at one point. “Your strategy [on Libya] has been all over the map,” he said at another point.
Romney, on the other hand, seemed to have stepped onto the debate stage at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., determined to debunk the image of him – drawn from his own words, in some cases, as well as portrayals from the Obama camp – as a militarist itching to strike adversaries like Iran with a big stick.
“We can’t kill ourselves out of this mess,” Romney said, in explaining to moderator Bob Schieffer what he means when he says US foreign policy in the Middle East is “unraveling.”
Using the word “peace” so many times it became clear he was making a point, Romney even spoke positively of the United Nations and the need to work in cooperation with it.
Romney also appeared to take a lesson from the Karl Rove playbook – where rule No. 1 is, attack your opponents' strengths – when he acted to preempt what he figured would be Obama’s touting of the death of Osama bin Laden.