Sen. Ted Cruz has a new explanation for Romney’s loss:
“And then inevitably, there are these mandarins of politics, who give the voice [sic]: ‘Don’t show any contrasts. Don’t rock the boat.’ So by the third debate, I’m pretty certain Mitt Romney actually French-kissed Barack Obama.”
The Texas Republican speech amounted to something of an alternative history of the 2012 election, in which Romney’s chances peaked after the first debate because he presented strong contrasts with Obama. Most observers have pinpointed the first debate as a moment where Romney moderated his rhetoric and policy proposals, claiming the political center.
What makes Cruz’s remarks more unusual is that he seems to think it would have helped Romney’s cause to draw attention to how his foreign policy views differed from Obama’s. Romney admittedly spent most of 2012 exaggerating differences with Obama on foreign policy to distinguish himself from his opponent, but he did this because on a number of issues his positions put him mostly in agreement with what the administration was already doing. Because the third debate was focused heavily on Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan, there were very few opportunities for Romney to separate himself from Obama.
Romney was hardly going to draw a contrast with Obama by running as the more restrained and prudent candidate, and he understood well enough that he had nothing to gain at that point by falling back on his belligerent rhetoric. Romney was being careful not to appear too hawkish or eager to plunge the U.S. into any new wars. He was also clearly the most out of his depth during the foreign policy debate, so it would have been the worst time for him to risk making a major blunder so close to Election Day.
Short of adopting even more hawkish positions than he already held, Romney couldn’t have drawn sharp contrasts with Obama on Syria or Iran because there weren’t very many to be drawn. Since there wasn’t a policy argument that Romney could have made that would have done this, Cruz’s complaint boils down to nothing more than a demand for combativeness for the sake of combativeness. Cruz doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that a sharper contrast between Romney and Obama on foreign policy would have almost certainly been to Romney’s disadvantage, or that Romney’s default hawkishness was an overall liability with a war-weary public that still doesn’t trust Republicans on foreign policy after Iraq.