Watching the foreign policy debate last Monday, I was struck by how it turned into a total role reversal from the first debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. As the debate wore on, I was thinking, "What in the world is Romney doing? Did he not see how disastrous prevent defense was for Obama in the first debate?" Not that I am complaining, mind you. I thoroughly enjoyed the shellacking Obama put on Romney and the pained look on Romney's face, but I just could not understand why the Romney folks thought this was a good strategy. Just like I could not understand why the Obama folks on balance thought his prevent defense was a good strategy in the first debate. Both men looked weak in these "prevent" performances.
I realize the first debate completely changed the narrative of this race, but now we have had two consecutive standout performances from Obama, with the last one being a completely dominating performance. To me, being completely dominated in a foreign policy debate in front of a still very large TV audience (it was not that much of a drop off from the first two debates) is a pretty bad thing. It is foreign policy. It is about how you will protect Americans and our interests abroad. Being dominated on that count makes you look like a weak defender of the country. No one wants that in a Commander-in-Chief. I think the Romney folks were playing with fire on this one.
I understood the rationale for why the Obama campaign wanted to play prevent defense in the first debate. They were sitting on a pretty nice lead, and up to that point, Romney had not shown any ability to run anything close to a competent campaign. However, as we all know, once he got up there at that podium he immediately changed himself into "Massachusetts Moderate Mitt" and went on a full throttle offensive against the President. Instead of reacting in real-time to Romney's obvious flip-flops and obfuscations, Obama mostly decided to stick with the strategy of playing prevent defense. Sure, here and there he challenged Romney, but overall it was a wipe out. Obama needed to change tactics right then and there and start calling Romney out on his flip-flops. He did not do that, and the rest is history.
Fast forward to the third debate... Was it not a complete role reversal? Romney did chip in something to challenge Obama on foreign policy here and there, but for the most part it was a wipe out. Romney was most effective when he changed the subject to domestic policy, but even then Obama had great retorts to dull the impact. I just do not understand why the Romney campaign felt this would be a good idea after seeing what happened in and after the first debate. It is not as if Romney had a somewhat comfortable lead going into the third debate. He was at best slightly ahead in reputable national polls and still not even with Obama in the battleground states that he really needs, such as Ohio. You could at least understand the rationale of Team Obama's prevent defense in the first debate since he held that fairly comfortable lead at the time, and Romney had been imploding with one self-inflicted wound after another. But going into the third debate, Romney did not have a lead, and everyone knows Obama's reputation as the quintessential "4th quarter performer” who is great at closing elections. He had already shown he was back on his game in the second debate, so why play with fire in the third? (On a side note, how about those new closing sale ads, one with Obama talking directly to the camera and referencing the 20-page plan and another one with Bill Clinton essentially doing the same thing? And Obama actually holding up “the plan” at rallies and the campaign distributing 3.5 million copies. Awesome marketing and closing messages.)
Obviously, I am thrilled Team Romney decided to go the prevent defense route in the last debate. I think we are already beginning to see the fruits of the back-to-back great debate performances for Obama, and I have to believe Romney could have blunted some of that if he had not played prevent defense in the third debate. He was never going to "win" the third debate, since foreign policy is certainly not his thing. But just playing dead for most of the debate was misguided. Now the last debate image in an undecided voter’s mind is Pres. Obama dominating Gov. Romney and making him seem small and weak in comparison. When you combine that with the great closing messages with the 20-page plan, Clinton saying Obama has “got it right,” and Obama really pushing the trust issue on the campaign trail detailing obvious “Romnesia” moments, I think you have a pretty compelling message for the undecided voter.
Not to mention, the base seems pretty damned fired up and ready to go now! And others on Daily Kos have already mentioned the ridiculous GOTV operation. Enthusiasm gap? Really?
Any football fan will tell you that prevent defense is not the way to win a game. It seems many coaches still do not get that...