One of these guys looked presidential and one of them looked like a somewhat desperate challenger. Romney looked like the president, and Obama looked like the challenger. In preparing for this debate Romney may have demonstrated his presidential mettle in a way that he has not demonstrated before now. He showed guts and the willingness to go against mainstream thinking, even some in his own party. He was also willing to place a substantial bet on his own intuition about the mood of the American people. This is the stuff of presidents.
I believe that Romney took a cold, hard look at the numbers and decided that on the current course, he would win. The only thing that could side track him would be to make women and independents feel that, even if he was strong on economic issues, he was not up to the potentially-even-more-important challenges that foreign policy presents to a president. It seems to me that Mitt’s thinking went something like this:
“Some American voters are fed up and disillusioned, but are still looking for a level of comfort before they vote to replace Obama. I must not scare them off by playing into Obama’s mantra that I’m eager to get the United States into another war. That’s the last thing I want and I think I can persuade these folks of that.
“But in order to seal the deal, I’m going to have to absorb some hits. If Obama is looking at the same numbers and trends that I am (and he is), then he will come out aggressive and unpresidential. He feels he has no choice. He is under pressure, however he doesn’t do well under pressure. As the media’s favorite son, Obama has seldom been tested. It has taken a tough campaign and a challenger who would go toe to toe with him to bring out Obama’s natural resentment of anyone who criticizes or contradicts him. He much prefers to talk down to people, literally, such as when, during a State of the Union address, he castigated the Supreme Court and misled the American people about what the High Court had done, or when he lectured and denigrated Paul Ryan to his face in a speech before Congressional leaders after Ryan submitted a budget plan.
“People are not used to seeing that look on Obama’s face when the shoe is on the other foot — when he is desperate. I want them to see that look. Obama will be even more frustrated when I don’t take the bait. When Obama takes a serious, debatable issue of foreign policy and turns it into a personal shot at me, I win, he loses. If Obama is vulnerable on anything more than his disastrous past record, it’s his total failure to put forth a credible plan for the future. So when he attacks me, instead of answering the attack, I’ll just pivot and say that an attack on me is not a plan for the future, reminding everybody of his weakness.
“However all of the hits won’t be from Obama. His tactics will appeal to those who judge a presidential debate as they would an Olympic boxing match. He will win some snap polls right after the debate. Among the media, especially, ‘feisty’ has become synonymous with presidential. That’s just the opposite of what most think when we are talking about foreign policy and issues of war and piece. He will ‘win’ as Nixon won against Kennedy, Kerry won against Bush, Mondale won against Reagan and even Ford won against Carter, until what was said was absorbed. I’ve got my eye on a bigger picture.
“Even my supporters will be disappointed initially. They want me to pound him, especially on his weakness in failing to provide security for our people in Libya, and for the obvious cover up after the attack. But that’s just it: it is obvious. And when I calmly lay out Obama’s overall weakness on foreign policy, Libya will fit right in for those who have followed the matter. For others, what I say about it won’t matter anyway.
“It’s also not going to hurt my cause to agree with the President on some things. How could I not when most of his successes in fighting terrorism have been when he has followed the Bush policies or reversed his own positions.
“The most surprised and disappointed person in America that I didn’t come out swinging on Libya will be Barak Obama. He and his team have had several days to prepare for this.
“You can bet that they have a game plan to deny, obfuscate and mislead, then try to turn it back on me. He’ll rely on the limited time I will have to pin him down. All of this planning will be wasted time for him and we will be able to see the disappointment on his face by the end of the debate. And, long before, my supporters will have seen my strategy and will be in full support.
“I have a fine line to walk. If I come off as weak because I over-compensated for the warmonger image Obama will try to paint of me, I will have blown this thing in the 9th inning. But I’m going to trust myself and be myself. I am self-confident, knowledgeable and moderate in my temperament. That’s what I’m going to go with”
I’d say Romney’s strategy worked beautifully. And I’d say that he walked away from that debate having checked the final box to qualify as the next President of the United States.
- Fred Thompson