Call it the “me, too” debate.
Any Republicans who expected to see the dominant version of Mitt Romney they saw in the first debate — or the combative Mitt Romney they viewed in the second debate — must have been gravely disappointed in the Mitt Romney they saw Monday night in the third and final presidential encounter.
What they saw in the foreign policy debate was a confident President Barack Obama smacking an uneasy Mitt Romney around for 90 minutes with barely any resistance by the GOP challenger.
Departing from the campaign rhetoric he has been employing over the past 18 months, Romney pretty much agreed with Obama on getting out of Afghanistan in 2014, on U.S. policy in Libya, on not using the U.S. military in Syria and on the use of drones to decimate al-Qaida.
For all the pre-debate talk about the administration’s response to the killing of Americans in Benghazi, there was scarcely a whisper of that during the debate.
Like the many Democrats who wondered where the president’s head was at during the first debate, so must Republicans have yelled at their televisions Monday night as Romney chose caution over conflict again and again, seemingly afraid to make a mistake.
Romney stepped into Obama’s traps again and again. When Romney mentioned that the president didn’t visit Israel on his Middle East tour, Obama rejoined that, as a candidate, he did visit Israel and rather than do fundraising (like Romney), visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, and also visited an Israeli town hit by missiles.
When Romney said our Navy had its fewest ships since 1917, the president got off his best line of the night when he said: “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Then he pointed out that our Navy has aircraft carriers and other modern weaponry.
If the pundits are correct and Ohio is the make-or-break state in the election, Romney’s biggest mistake Monday night came on a domestic rather than foreign affairs issue.
Romney attempted to muddy the waters regarding what he said before Obama rescued the automobile industry. Romney falsely claimed that he was for government support of General Motors and Chrysler going into bankruptcy, and Obama handed him his head.
“If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry,” Obama said, “we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China.”
Romney made the auto bailout — hugely popular in Michigan and Ohio — an issue that will be talked about more and more in Ohio.
For Mitt Romney, it was one “me, too” too many, and may wind up costing him the presidency.