Bolton predicts that Romney will argue more, however, about the Obama administration’s failures, from its handling of the Arab Spring to its handling of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. “It’s going to be a very sharp contrast in their respective views of America’s place in the world,” Bolton says.
Dave Carney, a Republican operative and former adviser to the Rick Perry presidential campaign, says Romney will have to handle the Bush question with caution. “As he has already done, he needs to distance himself a little bit,” Carney says. “He needs to be sure-footed and focus on the president. The president is confident on this topic, but it could be his weakest and most dangerous debate since there will be extended conversation about what happened in Libya.”
According to campaign sources, Romney is eager to blast the president’s leadership. From speeches to op-ed articles, Romney has spent much of October hitting the president’s approach to global politics. “For the last four years, we’ve had a foreign policy led by a president who believes that the strength of his personality is going to get people to do the right things,” Romney said at a recent rally. “Well, we’ve seen fires burning in U.S. embassies around the world.”
During debate prep, Romney has spent time honing his approach. Unlike the economic debate, where he could wield data as weapons, Romney will have to make a broader case against President Obama’s foreign policy, mixing up examples of bureaucratic incompetence with larger questions. “Foreign policy has become a character issue,” Sununu says. “People are realizing that whenever you hear about foreign policy, you’re getting dishonesty out of the White House.
“Romney was competent and capable in the first two debates and needs to use this debate to finish those opening statements,” says Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa. “He projected a presidential image, and tonight, he’s going to have to do that again.” In such a high-stakes setting, Romney will also need to stay loose. “He will have to prepare, perhaps, for a moderator’s interruption,” King chuckles.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.