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Tim Cahill: The Impact of the Final Presidential Debate

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Tim Cahill, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

Well debate season has finally ended for the 2012 presidential election, and battle for the hearts and minds of America is finally in the home stretch. Because this was the third of three debates, there was less opportunity for either candidate to introduce any game changers. In addition, this was supposed to be a debate about foreign policy, a subject that often make Americans sleepy. At the end of the day, both candidates succeeded in getting across their talking points about making America safe and strong.

If there was any advantage, it belonged to Mitt Romney in that the subject of foreign policy kept getting brought back to the economy at home. Where President Obama scored was having Mitt Romney agreeing with him over and over again about his foreign policy decisions. In the end Romney had to convince those Americans who were still unsure whether he was a safe enough choice to deal with the myriad of problems that face the globe. Obama's goal was to convince the undecided voter whether or not he had control of the international situation.

During the  first thirty minutes, the debate focused entirely on the Middle East, giving Romney plenty of opportunities to go after the president for his administration's variety of explanations for the loss of American lives in Libya. Romney chose to pass in pressing the President and instead focus on laying out a stable and sound vision for the region. His talking points were mostly about Iran, nuclear weapons and his strong support for Israel. I am sure that the pundits on the right will see this as a clear missed opportunity for the challenger. I think it was the correct move. Further politicizing the tragedy in Libya and getting dragged into a debate about timelines and arguing about the true meaning of "acts of terror" would have diminished Romney and made him appear petty when what he was trying to appear was presidential.

By the second half of the debate, Obama was clearly attempting to make Romney's policies sound wrong and reckless. Unfortunately, Romney sounded neither as he kept agreeing with the President, so Obama actually used the words "wrong and reckless" to describe his challenger. It fell a little flat because Romney's words up until then described policies that were neither. Where the President scored was on the discussion of the defense budget, saying to his challenger that this was not a game of "battleship" and bringing into his rebuttal of Romney's military hardware statistics that the military had no need of "horses and bayonets."

What surprised me the most was the lack of questions from the moderator on two major parts of the world that are indeed very important to America's economic future: Europe and Latin America. Although Romney once attempted to bring the Latin American countries into the conversation by comparing the size of their combined economies to China and the need for open trade, nothing more was to come of it. And for Europe to be totally dismissed in a debate about foreign policy and the world economy is unfathomable. Other than Romney comparing Obama's economic policies to those of Greece, nary a mention of the other, more prominent fiscal problems that confront Spain and Italy. This clearly worked in favor of Obama.

At the end of the evening, I do not think the debate changed many minds. Romney worked hard and had some success when he brought the discussion back to the economy here in America and how that is our most pressing foreign policy challenge. Obama worked hard and had some successes in making the election a referendum on Romney; his changing positions, lack of experience and more important, lack of judgement to lead the most powerful nation on earth. Both candidates had strong and coherent closing arguments that left us right where we started when this debate started--tied. The only slight movement may in the end come from Romney's wise use of the phrase "having Democrats and Republicans work together in Washington." It's not what hardcore Democrats and Republicans want to hear, but maybe what those few true undecideds are looking for when they go and vote in two weeks.


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