The Campaign Spot

Focus-Grouped Romney Edges Disdainful Obama

If I didn’t have to watch this debate for work, I would have watched something else. Foreign policy can be a fascinating topic to discuss, but the instincts of the voters in play – populist, anti-China, quasi-isolationist, disinterested in the details of policy – and the interests of both men – Romney wanting to keep appearing presidential, the president desperately needing some knockout punch, both eager to sneak in points about the economy – made for an excruciating evening of dueling talking points.

I think Romney’s answers were tailor-made to wow a focus group, and I don’t mean that entirely complimentary. They were probably very effective at whatever remaining persuadable voters are still out there, presuming any bothered to watch tonight. We’re a war-weary nation, so the word “peace” came out early and often. I think Romney’s rhetoric is more likely to reflect his hopes than the actual course of events in the next four years; I think the instinctive aggression of the anti-American forces around the world – al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the Iranian regime, whatever remains of the Assad regime, the Haqqani group, Islamist forces from north Africa to the Pacific, the more bellicose corners of Russia and China – mean that the next four years will include conflict, no matter how much America may want the rest of the world to go away and leave us alone.

I suppose the Obama gameplan was to portray Romney as another George W. Bush, and Romney defused that by declaring, “we can’t kill our way out of this problem.” Not the argument you’re used to seeing from a Republican against a Democrat.

Obama’s near-explosion — “bayonets and horses… this isn’t Battleship” will stand out. Boy, was president Obama snippy and sneering  during that answer. Obama couldn’t contain his disdain and contempt for Romney in any of these debates, and it really flared tonight.

Chris Wallace just said that a Marine wrote him, “the Marines still use bayonets.”

Nothing changes. Romney’s got the momentum and is making his pitch to the remaining undecideds, who are deciding between voting for Romney and staying home. Obama and his campaign have decided to make these final weeks about base motivation, and hope that the president’s 47 percent or so will be enough to get him to 270 electoral votes. Maybe it will work, but it’s an extraordinarily high-risk approach for a president who won with gobs of electoral votes to spare four years ago.


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