As is my custom I did not watch the last debate between the presidential candidates last night. The consensus seems to be that the president won:
Thanks to an aggressive performance and a couple of zingers, a plurality of debate watchers questioned in a national survey say that the president won his final faceoff with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
But a CNN/ORC International poll conducted right after Monday night’s faceoff here at Lynn University in south Florida also indicates that the debate may be a draw when it comes to whether it will affect the choice of voters who watched the showdown, and Romney held his own with the president on the commander-in-chief test.
And according to the survey, unlike previous debates, there was a big gender gap, with women responding much more favorably to Obama’s performance and men giving a small advantage to Romney.
Partisans of each side are claiming that their preferred candidate trounced his opponent. The president’s fans are making much of this exchange:
President Obama told Mitt Romney that he was out of touch on his criticism of the current military structure, at the foreign policy debate.
“But I think Gov. Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works,” said Obama. “You mention the Navy, and how we have fewer ships than 1916. We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have aircraft carriers; we have ships that go underwater; nuclear submarines.”
while Gov. Romney’s supporters saw things differently:
Mitt Romney needed to pass the usual tests for Republican presidential candidates in his debate Monday night with President Obama.
There was the Ford test (alternatively known as the Palin/Cain/Perry test): Would Mr. Romney say something so obviously misinformed, so manifestly silly, so revealingly ignorant as to disqualify him from serious consideration as a prospective commander-in-chief? He said nothing of the sort.
There was the Goldwater test (unfairly named, but reputations are stubborn things): Did Mr. Romney make pronouncements so belligerent as to make ordinary people fear for their children’s safety—or at least provide David Axelrod a chance to make it seem as if he did? He did not, though that won’t stop Mr. Axelrod from trying.
And there was the Bush test (not unfairly named but mistakenly understood to mean ideology when it ought to be about consistency): Would Mr. Romney find a deft way to define his foreign policy as something other than a retread of the 43rd president—but also as something defensible, distinctive, and (not least) identifiably Republican?
On this score, Mr. Romney succeeded, too, if only in a manner coyly calculated to raise the hackles of every conservative who has harbored doubts all along about the Massachusetts governor.
I think that the president may have out-smarted himself in the wisecrack that’s being quoted. If he’d said “crossbows and arbalests” he might have been on to something but the reality is that the Army buys thousands more bayonets, mostly M9s, every year and horses have proven very useful lately in Afghanistan so I strongly suspect we’ve been buying more of them too. Ships as a category aren’t obsolete, either. Do we need to buy more of them? The Navy has said “yes” but the president has disagreed with that. That’s due to a difference in strategic views rather than being out of touch.
I honestly don’t see how the president’s supporters can make the argument with a straight face that Mitt Romney isn’t sufficiently experienced in foreign policy to be president. You could reasonably argue that Barack Obama wasn’t sufficiently prepared in 2008 but that presidents get all of the experience they need in OJT, implying that Mitt Romney has all of the experience he needs as well. You might argue that Barack Obama learned everything he needed to know as a child in Indonesia which IMO doesn’t meet the laugh test. You can’t reasonably argue Romney doesn’t have enough experience.
Using the method I’ve suggested before of listening to the debate with the sound off the description I’ve been reading of the president’s performance as “condescending and small” comes across pretty strongly, particularly in the president’s closing remarks. Fortunately for the president by that time most people had probably changed the channel anyway.
Consider the graph of the last 30 days of the RCP average of polls. Obama has gone from four full points ahead to being slightly behind.
The overnight polls haven’t come in yet but as of this moment it looks to me as though Mitt Romney accomplished what he needed to in the debates while the president staunched the bleeding from the wounds he inflicted on himself in the first debate. As Bret Stephens, cited above, put it Romney is a “perfectly plausible president”. I don’t believe the president succeeded in painting Romney as stupid, frightening, or a clone of George W. Bush. If anything, on foreign policy he’s a clone of Barack Obama. For me that’s distressing but most of the country doesn’t see it that way.
The overnight tracking polls are starting to come in and the RCP average of polls has risen to nearly a one point advantage for Romney over Obama. The Gallup poll of likely voters, the most significant metric until the election itself, shows that 51% of likely voters now plan to vote for Romney. That fully supports the point I made above: Romney did what he needed to do and the president, while he may be encouraging his most faithful supporters with quips and putdowns, didn’t.
Also, quite a few people are making the observation that I did—that the president outsmarted himself with the wisecrack about bayonets and horses that his faithful followers like so much. See here, for example.
I haven’t been able to quantify it as well as I’d like but I do know that the Army has been buying about 5,000 bayonets a year, a lot of them from the Ottawa Knife Company as it has for nearly the last century.