I agree with the general consensus. Both candidates did well, and as a performance, the debate was essentially a draw. At one level, that helps Kerry by heartening his supporters and halting what could have been a potentially disastrous slide. Yet in the end, this debate will give the election to the president. That’s because the public understands that with the stakes so high, it’s substance that matters, not style. Tonight, Americans understand even more clearly what they’ve understood all along. These two men have a different approach to foreign policy. Kerry is more multilateral, more disposed to rely on negotiations, and more comfortable with the European perspective on the world. The president is willing to work with other nations, but more disposed to use force if necessary, and more suspicious of the European world-view. The fact of the matter is, the public is closer to the president’s perspective on these issues. Kerry’s base is split on issues of war and foreign policy, and that gives the president the advantage. So the debate matters simply because it confirms what everyone already knows about the differences between the two candidates. I’m not even sure that, had the president committed a major rhetorical gaffe, things would have been any different. In this election in particular, the public is genuinely listening for substance, and will go with its real beliefs. They will not be distracted by sideshows. The Swiftboat stuff might seem to contradict this, but it doesn’t. The Swiftboat controversy looks like an issue of style, character, and personality. But it’s really clue to what sort of substantive foreign policy views are rooted in John Kerry’s soul. In short, this election will turn on substance, not style, and this debate has confirmed and emphasized the clear policy choice. Since the public’s foreign policy instincts are closer to those of the president, he will win.