Yes, I'm on the left coast, on the outskirts of LALA land - and almost like being on the left coast (3 hours behind), I've just finished watching the third Presidential debate on a DVR delay. Once again, I've been unable to view the debate live (or live blog), but as I watch 'The Natural' as opposed to the post-debate spin on CNN, MSNBC, and FNC, I'm going to share my thoughts and observations tonight...particularly since tomorrow is a very busy day...
Coming into tonight's debate - Barack Obama needed to win this debate by a margin equal or greater to than the margin he lost the first debate October 3rd. The fundamentals of the election changed dramatically in the wake of the miserable performance from Barack Obama in that first debate. The race was going to be very close prior to this series of debates - the record of the President assured that. As Brit Hume opined on Fox News during a pre-debate interview, the polls have been / are (to a large extent) rigged to the favor of Barack Obama by a factor of 7 points. That is the effect / margin of the mainstream media bias.
Before the debates - the President was showing weakness in the polls. While holding a mainline lead - of 3-6 points in most of them, the President was unable to break the 47-48% level - clearly below the 50% mark. But this lead, in most of the polls, was a result of a sample that modeled a Democrat turnout at or above that of 2008 while showing a Republican turnout below the 2008 one. Barack Obama held an 'overall' lead, but was losing Independents, Middle America - affiliated with neither party - by 5 to 10 points. For the grognards - this was a tenuous position for the President's reelection.
In the first debate, Barack Obama failed miserably. Next to the challenger his campaign had just spent $150 million in negative ads running down, the President was unable to effectively debate or appear Presidential. He was demolished in that debate -shown without a record upon which to run on and completely hammered / lost / overwhelmed by someone who appeared far more competent, energetic, visionary, and Presidential.
As raucous as the second debate was - the momentum / preference surge that Mitt Romney gained was not halted at all - in fact, it was barely slowed down. A more combative President still had serious problems with his record and rhetoric - needing the moderator to ring the bell to end the round / bail his ass out on a number of occasions. It was a debate by the President designed more to stop the bleeding of his party's base - and in a best case world, stop that of the independents. It didn't - which set the stage for this last debate.
Barack Obama walked onto the stage at Lynn University in Boca Raton needing to dominate and win in order to stop the preference surge against his reelection. He, and his team, looked around the world, and at the discussion of Libya in the last debate, and thought that foreign policy was where the President could win - could promote a record unlike with his domestic policies.
For the first 20-30 minutes, Barack Obama did hold a slight advantage over Mitt Romney. He was given a gift by moderator Bob Schieffer with the first question teeing up Libya. Mitt Romney, stung by the Candy Crowley interjecting herself regarding Libya, declined to aggressively counter Barack Obama over Libya.
This missteps by Barack Obama and the Administration are well known. They are out there - even with the efforts of the mainstream media to spin them, and the damage, away from the Obama candidacy. This was a mine for Mitt Romney - and the President's strategy was to trap Romney into a petty argument of the nuances and spin of the Administration - an argument that the mainstream media would ensure that Mitt Romney would lose. But rather than step into the trap - rather than get caught in a never ending circle jerk of trying to catch a moving goalpost, Mitt Romney's strategy was entirely different.
One of my first impressions from this debate was that the roles were reversed. Barack Obama acted like the challenger - the upstart trying to take the professional off his game. And Mitt Romney was the incumbent, the President, the one with not only the commons sense and realistic vision, but the one with the 'adult' vision.
Once we got past the first thirty minutes of the debate - these roles solidified. Barack Obama, increasingly desperate, began to show his desperation and exasperation with the GOP candidate. He became as snarky and snarly as he was in the first debate. His demeanor was various levels of the 'death stare' - ranging from immolate the person I am staring at to immolate the entire planet.
Where Barack Obama lost this debate was also when he was his most obnoxious, arrogant, and most snarky - the exchange where he tried to counter the hard hitting Romney attack over the reality of what Barack Obama's policies are doing to our national defense - in particular the massive reduction of capabilities and strength of the US Navy.
In response to Mitt Romney's accurate portrayal that the Obama plan will reduce the size of the US Navy to a level not seen since 1917 - Barack Obama segued to attacking Mitt Romney that technology and mission have changed - with horses and bayonets also not being needed in today's battlefield.
For those who are students of recent history - as well as the Reagan axiom that 'Peace comes from Strength' - they will know that Romney's observation on the size of the US Navy is correct. They will also know that, based on our experience in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, horse mounted forces are not only viable, but were a real force in defeating the Taliban - well before the other anti-war / anti-US progressives thought was possible. Any visit to a current training base of Marines, Army, or SEALs, and one would know that bayonets / knives are still an integral part in the training of our combat forces.
From this point on, Barack Obama seemed more and more desperate to try to reverse or undo the Presidential appearance of Mitt Romney. That is where Obama lost the debate - and ultimately, I believe, ensured that Mitt Romney will win the election on November 6.
The talking heads remain on my television trying to spin the results. The Frank Luntz focus group on Fox was quite interesting as the usually unflappable Luntz lost control of the group - with an Obama-bot and a Romney supporter briefly dominated. That group indicated that in pure foreign policy, they gave a slight win to Barack Obama's policies and rhetoric - as they seemed less likely to ignite war. That same group also gave a stronger win to Mitt Romney for his positions on the economy and the importance of the economy towards establishing and supporting the strength of the US foreign policy.
In the vast majority of the polls on this election, the key issues from left, right, and the center, has been the national economy. It dominates the atmosphere - just as foreign policy dominated the atmosphere in 2004.
Today, Mitt Romney appeared, yet again, Presidential and competent. He didn't allow his opponent to try to present him as George Bush or the 1980 rabid Cold Warrior - and did so while remaining Presidential in his appearance. He played to tie with the foreign policy - refusing to get drawn into a hole where the snake would have the advantage. He played to a win with the economy and his confidence / vision for the future. He also avoided a gaffe that would undo all of these gains.
Moderator - Bob Schieffer - B+
Bob had one major task in this debate - not to be as biased or vapid as the previous moderators. In this he succeeded. His choice of topics and questions still betrayed his liberal bias - but he refused to interject himself into the debate to the level that his predecessors did. More than once [more than a dozen times, Ed] Barack Obama looked to Bob for a lifeline, for an interjection to bail him out. At best, there was only one time when Bob clearly offered that lifeline...and that seemed to be a one-time aid to the President. Beyond that, Bob tried to be (and seemed to be) fairer towards the challenger than the previous moderators were. Well done, Bob. I can quibble on some questions, but you were better now than in 2008.
President Barack Obama - C
Yes, many of the snap polls and mainstream media talking heads are awarding Barack Obama a slim win on points in this debate - just as they (we) said he won on points in the second debate. But, a slight win on points doesn't help the President. He was handcuffed by his dismal record - in foreign policy, in domestic policy, and on the economy. Many of his answers were not very different from his same open-ended answers that the President offered in 2008. Just as the President is campaigning on the basis that Mitt Romney is another George W. Bush in domestic and economy policy, he tried to push the meme that Mitt Romney is another George W. Bush on foreign policy. That was is not the case - and as the President became more frustrated, more desperate, and more angry (death stare) - he ultimately appeared less Presidential than the his challenger.
Mitt Romney - B+
Many conservatives (and to extent myself) are upset with Mitt Romney for not being more aggressive and assertive over the President's dismal foreign policy agenda and record. It is telling about just how screwed we are / the dismal shape that we are in, that a foreign policy record steeped around a level of incompetence not seen since Jimmy Carter or Neville Chamberlain is overwhelmed by an even more dismal economic record.
Mitt Romney came into this debate with the momentum, a preference surge. He needed to reinforce the strides he made in the previous debates that he appeared to be Presidential and competent / knowledgeable to be President. He needed to avoid being trapped in the snake hole and bit as he engaged with a viper. Many of the topics brought up by Schieffer and Obama were intended to offer him the choice of getting into that hole. But Romney declined - to chagrin of foreign policy hawks like myself. But as he disappointed us - most of us already locked into supporting Mitt Romney (and unlikely to change), he made a very strong argument to Middle America and the undecided / wavering still trying to decide if Barack Obama earned another term. He made a strong case, on economics and on foreign policy that Barack Obama does not deserve another term.
Now the race comes down to the swing states and how they will fall.
Did Barack Obama do enough / win enough in the mind of some to stop and reverse the preference surge running towards Mitt Romney? No, he didn't.
Did Barack Obama make the case that his agenda, policies, and accomplishments regarding foreign policy enhance or weaken the standing of the US? Support our economy? Make the world more free - and in particular more safe? Ensure the national security of the United States? No, he didn't on any of those.
For the first 20-30 minutes of the debate, Barack Obama was winning - but not decisively. For the balance of the debate - Barack Obama did not win. Nor did he offer a viable vision for the next four years different from the last four - which have seen us become less safe - not more safe. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney demonstrated himself to be Presidential. To be informed. To be objective and observant. To apply what most of think is 'common sense' towards foreign policy - treat friends as friends, enemies as enemies, and lead - not from behind, but from the front.
For the next two weeks the corrupt mainstream media will tell us just how close this race is - particularly within the Obama 'firewall' states - New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, and Nevada. They are going to do all they can to influence these states remaining in the Obama camp - ensuring the President's reelection. I think this is a lost cause because this election has already passed the tipping point. Where the real undecideds made up their minds and tipped this election to one candidate.
All that the subsequent debates could have done was undo that tipping point - to instill a level of doubt and concern that would cause the majority of Middle America to pause and take a new look at their decision - Is this really the right decision I (we) need to make?
The answer to that question has not changed - and later this week as I offer my last look at the Electoral College, I will provide some additional data to support my impression / conclusion on how this critical race will end.