8:40 Welcome all to another installment of Live Blogging The Presidential Debate! I hope you can join in- we set a record for participation and visits on this blog during the last debate, and I hope we can break it tonight. And this gives me an opportunity to remind viewers that if they want to get on the distribution list for the regular posts here, just shoot me an email at email@example.com And tonight, I promise (Anna are you listening?) that we will be employing the new live blogging software so – in theory – you don’t need to refresh your screen to catch the latest comments.
Once again, great participation. We are calling it a night. Two weeks to go! I’ll be on tomorrow with the post-mortem……
For what it is worth, CNN “instapoll” has Obama winning, but evidently within the poll’s margin of error. Of course, the real “poll” is how the voters actually react. But I guess it’s safe to say that it’s likely neither side “won” by a margin large enough to swing this race in their direction. Both sides can claim victory: Obama had some more memorable lines and probably won on style points, but Romney probably convinced voters that he’s certainly qualified to be commander-in-chief.
But this wasn’t a really a debate about foreign policy – it was a debate about domestic issues designed to win over swing state voters. That’s one reason why Romney spent so much time emphasizing defense spending – he sees it as a jobs issue, not a foreign policy issue.
Also, we need to know who the audience is in order to evaluate instapolls of who “won”.
Keep in mind that the audience for this debate – particularly with competing sporting events – is likely to be the smallest of the three debates.
It’s worth reminding you: who “won” the debate doesn’t tell us much about what impact the debate will have on the vote. Past history suggests that third debates don’t move voters very much, and nothing I saw tonight indicates that this third debate will have much impact on the national vote. Will it affect swing state voters in states like Ohio?
I followed tonight’s debate from a twitter-free environment, in large part because during previous debates the twits were watching an alternative universe. Not sure how tonight’s debate played there.
Here’s a first: talking heads on CNN citing Intrade as evidence of how the debate went!
Beyond the few memorable lines, there’s not much difference between the two in terms of substance. That meant Obama has to try to make Romney appear as a unsteady – flipflopper? – by referencing previous statements he had made. But it didn’t seem as if these attacks really played well.
In terms of demeanor, I thought the President was focused, aggressive, but also impatient and even sarcastic. Romney, in contrast, was calm – overly so? – more laid back.
Bottom line: As I suggested in my previous post, it was not likely that this debate was going to produce much of a shift in voter sentiment. Romney, understandably, spoke in broad strokes, while the President, who has a record to run on, was not shy in citing his successes.
Of course, foreign policy is not going to decide this election, and here I think Mitt was playing a deeper game. His repeated references to a strong military was undoubtedly an effort to attract swing state voters in areas where military contractors, and bases, are located (see Virginia, and Florida.)
It is clear that Romney’s goal tonight was to appear as a credible commander-in-chief. To do so, he sought to avoid coming across as too militaristic, and instead adopted a policy of “me tooism” by essentially coopting the President’s policy stances while avoiding staking out any detailed policies of his own. The President, in contrast, acted more as a challenger who knows he is in potential trouble. I think he probably scored more points, and had more memorable lines (horses and bayonets!) but the risk is that his tone, which bordered on sarcasm at time, might not have won over the undecided voters.
Both candidates still working the rope line.
Families rush the stage! Grandchildren too! Romney’s clan dominates in numbers.
Mitt: Optimism (Reagan’s legacy!). Notice the hands clasping! and the reference to Greece? And to food stamps! Another paean to bipartisanship. (Obama still refuses to turn away).
This is how each side wants to frame this election. Obama: I inherited a mess, and Mitt’s policies would simply reprise the policies that got us into this mess. What would he do? Pay teachers, tax the wealthy, kill bad guys, rebuild infrastructure, and finished on a high note!
Closing statements – and none too soon. This is it – last chance!
Somewhere tonight this morphed into a domestic policy debate. I think the auto bailout exchange is shifting no votes at all.
The ferocity of this exchange is, in part, because Ohio has tightened. First Solyndra reference.
Mitt has focused poll the “Attacking me doesn’t help” line – it’s been used twice today.
Finally, the President gets the out-sourcing jab in. And now we are back rehashing the auto bailout/investments over seas, etc. Romney has his answers down on these issues by now.
Where is that valve company located? Tell us Mitt!
Waiting for Bain to come into the debate.
Again, evidence of the New, more moderate and conciliatory Mitt – he says we can work with China. And now back to the military. I’ve got to believe he thinks this is a jobs issue. Building up the military is going to win him some votes somewhere.
Whenever we get a China question, as sure as night follows day, Obama will focus on trade and outsourcing of jobs. First reference to Ohio! Drink up!
Part of the difficulty for the undecided voter here is there is no independent way to verify just how well we are doing attacking Al Qaeda, nor how we are doing it, beyond drone strikes.
A revealing choice of words? “This nation – me – my administration”!
Comment on drones? Mitt: Me Too! When Mitt goes beyond me too, he does two things – criticizing the President’s accomplishments, and promising to lead through strength. Otherwise, there’s not much flesh on these bones.
Is it time for the U.S. to leave Pakistan? Is this even possible? Again, if the idea here is to show differences between these candidates, the questions are not doing this.
First shout out to the First Lady, whose approval ratings are far higher than the President’s.
Obama gets to remind viewers of the details of the surge in Afghanistan. There’s not much difference between the two here. “It’s time to start nation building at home.” This polled well, I’m sure.
Obama: Me too!
Mitt’s Pakistan answer playing well with men, a bit less so with women. Not sure why. Mitt is really emphasizing diplomacy over military force.
America’s Longest War: (Hey, Mitt gives ground on a rules issue – he’s learning!) What do you do if withdrawal deadline arrives, and Afghans can’t govern? Mitt: troops are coming home! Me too!
Obama wasn’t going to let the Bin Laden killing go unnoticed. Wow – biggest gender gap of the night: women moved by daughter of man killed in 9-11 story, men hate it.
Obama’s theme: Mitt is unsteady, can’t be trusted, comments are all over the map.
China hasn’t figured very heavily into the debate so far. Mitt’s three themes tonight are 1) the economic dimension of foreign policy 2) strengthening the military 3) strengthening ties with Israel.
What if the Prime Minister called to say the bombers are on the way – what would you say? Mitt swats it down as a hypothetical. The focus group likes this very much.
Who can win the righteous indignation war? Obama comes right back! Obama plays the kids card!
First sign of righteous indignation on Mitt’s part tonight!
(Commentators – I realize you have strong views, but remember – this debate is not directed toward partisans like you who have their minds made up – it’s directed toward the small numbers of undecideds.)
This is really Mitt’s first direct attack on the President – rehashing the “apology” tour, citing the President’s weakness. Schieffer really needs to push Mitt here on what constitutes strength.
Question: does Mitt win simply by holding Obama to a draw, and at least appearing credible on foreign policy? Because I think that is his goal tonight – to score a draw on foreign policy, come across as credible, make no mistakes, and realize that the election will turn on the economy.
Obama: foreign policy is hard work! We work really hard at it!
Schieffer: What deal will you accept in negotiations with Iran? This is an obviously bad question – no one is going to stipulate the end deal in public! Bad, Bob, Bad!
Mitt: Me Too – only more Me Too! This sounds like he advocating a different approach to Iran, but is he really? Once again, Mitt walking back from advocating military action.
Mitt: Me Too!
Let’s face it – there’s just not much difference between the two in foreign policy, unless you are an IR scholar schooled in the nuances of policy debates.
Question: Is an attack on Israel an attack on the U.S.? Obama says, in effect, yes – and then pivots to Iran. Economic sanctions are working. Look for Mitt to utter another “me too” here.
Wow. The President has just gone over some type of line – he can barely contain his disgust with Mitt. Is the tone too patronizing? Submarines that go under water? Horses and bayonets. Don’t forget the ships that float!
Mitt wants to talk military spending – he’s been trying to get the Navy issue on the table for some time now.
Schieffer basically decides that there’s no fight in foreign policy – let’s talk budgetary politics instead. I think Mitt is fine with that.
Is Obama really angry? He almost appears to be fuming that he even has to be on the same stage with Mitt!
Quick question: who appears more “presidential” so far?
Is it me, or the President overly aggressive by staying constantly on the attack? Or is this playing well out there? When he pivots to education, hiring teachers, that plays better. Fascinating how much of this debate is focusing on domestic policy.
Please – will someone champion Big Business? Just once?
Mitt: blatant appeal for the Latino vote – Latin America as a trading partner.
Mitt is abiding by rule one: stay positive, and look to the future. Has he attacked the President directly yet?
The focus group really likes it when Obama cites successes, such as cutting oil imports, but support drops precipitously when he goes on the attack against Mitt.
(Seb – if you saw my diatribe at the foreign policy panel last Thursday night – that’s exactly the point I made: presidents are constrained in their ability to deviate from their predecessor’s foreign policy commitments.)
Question: what should America’s role in the world be? Mitt: Instill American values through strength and leadership. And – boom! – it’s back to the economy!
I was waiting for Mitt to pivot to how foreign policy is linked to domestic issues – economic weakness, strong military, strong allies. (We have 42 allies! Is that all?)
Mitt: let’s talk platitudes!
Romney: Me Too! Lots of “me tooism” tonight. Mitt is not going to break new ground tonight. Again, he’s really trying to portray himself as a moderate. The tactics of a front-runner.
Question 3: Regrets that Mubarak is gone? This gives Obama a chance to highlight commonalities with what young people want here. Second time that Obama has turned foreign policy into a domestic issue. Smart move.
Several of you are noting that there’s not really much difference between the two of them on Syria. Obama drives this point home, by in effect saying that proves his administration is doing the right thing. Mitt doesn’t really seem to disagree.
Mitt: no military in Syria. So how do you remove Assad? Send in arms.
Obama is doing well when he recites what he has accomplished but I think he scores less well when he turns to attack the Mittster. Note the use of the words “forceful” and especially “thoughtful” – he used that twice in the last minute.
If you listen to Mitt’s answer, he hasn’t actually offered a policy accept to say we should be leaders there.
Again – and I don’t want to put too fine point on this – Mitt is consciously walking back from any overtly militaristic statements. It’s almost as if he sees himself as the front runner. Really tip toeing through foreign policy landmines here.
Obama’s trying to walk a fine line here – which reflects his line toward Syria more generally – between arguing for helping Syria without going all in. It will be interesting to see if Mitt goes all in here.
Question 2. Syria. Should we reassess our Syrian policy?
Mitt’s response is playing better with men than with women. Obama has twice referenced his experience as “manager” and as having experience making these decisions, implying of course that Mitt lacks that experience.
Romney just scored big with the focus group by saying “Attacking me is not a strategy”.
It’s almost as if Obama views himself as the challenger attacking Romney’s record! This is a clear reminder that Obama knows where the polls are heading, and he views this as an opportunity to reverse the trend.
And here it comes: I exepct Obama to keep throwing Mitt’s comments back at him. Mitt needs to state his policy now – and not defend prior statements.
(Seb – Good point – Mitt has the bigger flag.)
The New Mitt: possibility avoiding a militarized foreign policy – instead,focusing on non-military means for achieving foreign policy goals.
Obama is clearly ready to defend his Libyan policy. And he is going to go on the offensive by citing Mitt’s often contradictory foreign policy statements.
Romney: we can’t kill our way out of this – a direct effort to attract the women’s support. But Obama’s reference to both keeping the nation secure, and at the same time pulling out of Afghanistan, plays well with the women in the focus group.
As is fitting for the topic, the President is boring in on Mitt as the latter gives a somewhat rambling response. Mitt immediately tries to inoculate the debate from Bin Laden’s killing by acknowledging it up front.
First question: Libya – what happened? Mitt starts off. They both have the flag lapel on.
9:05 Schieffer starts off with a Cuban Missile crisis reference – that crisis,as you know, unfolded 50 years ago.
Different format tonight – they are seated, so there will be no close encounters of a threatening kind.
Cason – you on? We need the international audience. Drennen?
For students looking for the action at the Karl Rove Crossroads Superpac Cafte, they’ve moved shop tonight to Dana Auditorium I believe. What’s the crowd like there?
By the way, the Live Blog Drink Of The Night, to start, will be a cold Miller Lite. We’ll move to single malt as soon as Wolf begins getting into full throttle debate mode.
And, of course, there will be the obligatory attack on China’s currency and trading practices. Part of Romney’s difficulty will be due to the fact that the President has been a relative hardliner on the war on terror, so it’s hard for Romney to go one better there on issues like drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay, rendition policy or even the Afghan war.
This does not mean he should be overly deferential to the President, however. Obama is going to wrap himself in the commander-in-chief’s role – “I made the call to kill Bin Laden” – and Romney has to be careful about letting the President use that as his default position. Instead, I expect the Middle East – Libya, Syria and Iran – to be a focal point tonight.
8:54 So Romney’s goal is to appear presidential, project calm, sound knowledgeable, but also come across as a moderate, as opposed to a trigger-happy warmonger eager to nuke Iran before they nuke us.
8:52. We’ll be paying attention to the focus group tonight. Note that women are an important demographic tonight. As I’ve noted in several previous posts, I think Romney’s gains have come disproportionately from women. But that makes for a potential vulnerability tonight, in that he does not want to come out as too militaristic.
8:50. Yes Anna, the second time is the charm. Software up and running. By the way, Anna’s research was highlighted on Andrew Sullivan’s site today in one of his debate previews. I sure hope her analysis is correct.
8:48 As always, we are watching on CNN. They’ve added Fareed Zakaria to the pundits’ panel. Presumably he brings a dollop of gravitas to the group.
8:46 As you all know, the topic tonight is foreign policy. If you read my previous post, you know that I don’t think that this debate is likely to have nearly the impact that the first debate did, for a variety of reasons.