The Campaign Spot

Obama, Romney, and the Libya Exchange

Well, Obama checked one of the boxes he needed to: He came across more energetic and pugnacious. I’m sure liberals will be ecstatic. For what it’s worth, the CNN instant reaction on the bottom of the screen indicated that undecided voters weren’t pleased with the attacks and back and forth; I’m not sure if the remaining undecided really are so negative-attack-averse, or whether they’ve been conditioned to tell others that they are.

Romney had some strong moments, taking one voter’s basic, “what have you done for me” question — as one person observed, the one undecided black voter on Long Island — and offering a litany of Obama’s grand promises and how little progress had been made. Probably Romney’s best early points came on the issue of gas prices; perhaps no line from Romney or Paul Ryan will do as much damage as the questioner who began his query by noting that Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said that lowering the cost of gasoline for American consumers isn’t one of his priorities.

Of course, Obama’s answer never mentioned Chu.

Undoubtedly, the post-debate discussion is likely to focus on one exchange over Libya.

The president showed glowering indignation over the accusation that his administration misled the public on what happened in Benghazi and why. It was a potential slam-dunk moment . . .

. . . and then Romney got caught up in what Obama said in the Rose Garden on September 12. Take a look at Obama’s Rose Garden comments here. Obama refers to the murder of Stevens and the other Americans as an “attack” — duh — but then he says:

Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None.

Those lines clearly imply that the events were a reaction to the YouTube tape. The word “terror” appears once, in the entirety of Obama’s remarks, in this context:

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.

That’s not specifically referring to the Benghazi raid, although one could argue it’s implied.

However, by telling the audience — to applause! — that Obama did refer to the murders as a terror attack, Candy Crowley is responsible for one of the most egregious misjudgments of any moderator in the history of presidential debates.

Still, the American people may remember the administration spending a lot of time talking about a YouTube video in the days after the Benghazi attack, and Obama’s sudden insistence that his administration never really pushed that implausible-from-the-start alternative explanation may strike them as odd and implausible. Viewers may also notice that the president never responded to the audience member’s question about what the administration did in response to the reports indicating Benghazi was growing increasingly dangerous.

The Libya question may not be as damaging for Romney as the Obama team may hope; it came more than 70 minutes into this debate. Other than some early fireworks, much of this debate seemed to plod along, with each candidate insisting that what the other was saying was just flat not true. But considering how many conservatives thought Libya could be a huge issue in these campaign’s final weeks, Romney’s handling is deeply disappointing.

UPDATE:

Now she tells us: “[Romney] was right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word.”

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