In the past several weeks, Mitt Romney has gained ground in polls both nationally and in key swing states on the back of his first debate performance. Romney’s surge has been based around his strength on economic issues, which are going to be key to determining the outcome of the election. From the early going of tonight’s foreign policy debate, it was clear that Romney was aiming to run out the clock. He wanted to demonstrate a basic fluency on foreign policy so he could pass the commander in chief test, without looking like somebody who was itching to start more wars. Romney’s basic goal was to deny President Obama the ability to brand him a sort of “George Bush on steroids” and spook voters who would otherwise support him on economic issues. Romney accomplished all of these goals, even if it came at the cost of making it seem that he didn’t take much issue with Obama’s foreign policy.
Throughout the debate, Romney tried to preempt Obama attacks that he was speaking irresponsibility with a lot of bluster. Talking about the war on terrorism, Romney said that “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” He said thinks like, “we want a peaceful planet.” And he repeatedly insisted that he opposed American military involvement in Syria. Though Romney criticized Obama for fracturing the relationship with Israel and allowing Iran to move closer to a nuclear weapon, it was mostly Obama who was the one attacking Romney. Much of Obama’s attacks were based on hitting Romney for shifting his positions — but those attacks would have been much more effective had Obama decided to start portraying Romney as a flip flopper months ago, a subject explored in a previous post.
The bottom line is that this debate likely didn’t do much to change the trajectory of the presidential race. And I’m sure Romney is perfectly fine with that.