The story of the third presidential debate is not that President Barack Obama handily defeated Governor Mitt Romney. Rather, what was most noteworthy was how Romney suddenly embraced many of the president's foreign policy stances, as if to say, "Disregard all my previous positions."
Prior to the first debate Governor Romney was flailing and stumbling. President Obama was beginning to take a commanding lead in the polls as even some Republicans were making the switch. A debate win by the president would have effectively ended the Romney campaign. Of course, Romney had the president right where he wanted him.
President Obama, perhaps a bit overconfident, basically phoned in his first debate performance, while Romney came with a clear strategy, energy and purpose. The first debate was a game changer for Romney because it made him look like a legitimate contender. In contrast, President Obama looked as if he didn't care about a second term. Instead of a fatal blow to Romney, the first debate was a near fatal blow for President Obama.
While the president clearly won the rancorous second debate, held at Hoftra University, the results seemed to have little impact on voter sentiment. A bullying Romney commanded the stage, even treating the president disrespectfully. The debate devolved into a sparring match that did not benefit either candidate. Meanwhile, the president's lead in the national polls evaporated.
The third debate was on foreign policy, and moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. For months candidate Romney had harshly criticized every aspect of President Obama's foreign policy. But in Monday night's debate Romney heaped praise on many of Obama's policies. At long last the governor had decided to come home to a more centrist position. He had won the nomination by being a "severe conservative," but Monday night he "Etch a Sketched" his persona into a moderate.
Romney agreed with many of the president's policies, even praising him a couple of times. Of course, there were a couple of tough exchanges, including over military spending. "Our Navy is older -- excuse me -- our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285." Romney said. "That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy."
President Obama was ready with an answer, "You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- (laughter) -- because the nature of our military's changed. " He concluded, "And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's -- it's what are our capabilities."
Going into the final debate Romney had a clear strategy: avoid looking like a warmonger and sound reasonable. He was attempting to appeal to women. As a consequence his responses were so moderate it appeared he was doing all he could to distance himself from the neocons and the "Bush Doctrine." Romney has no foreign policy experience at all. In the past he has staked out very aggressive foreign policy positions against China, Russia, Syria and Iran.
What is most troubling is that Romney has had no problem changing his deeply-held positions to appeal to some constituency. This pattern has repeated itself throughout his political career. He was pro-choice before he was pro-life. He was for Romneycare before he was against Obamacare, which is based on the former. The reason Romney is a serial flip flopper is because he will do and say anything he needs to in order to become president. He has even changed his position on an issue mid-debate.
Romney is a salesman; he is a closer. He sounds convincing, confident and certain. But while he is never in doubt, he is frequently wrong. And worse, he is often misleading. Take his tax cut proposal, which does add up to $5 trillion over 10 years, and most benefits the truly rich. There currently aren't enough tax deductions to eliminate, including mortgage and charity, to pay for the tax cuts. But tax cuts do not grow the economy. The economy barely grew during President George Bush's presidency even though he had signed into law two unpaid for tax cuts, a.k.a., the Bush Tax Cuts.
For those who are now considering voting for Romney, buyer beware.