Foreign policy issues occupied a small portion of tonight’s debate, but they had an enormous impact on the outcome. The main sustained exchange between the two candidates on these issues was a clear defeat for Romney. This isn’t just my judgment, but was the widely shared view of observers from across the spectrum. Incredibly, Romney was so wedded to the idea that the administration didn’t acknowledge a terrorist attack on the consulate that he managed to get some basic facts wrong on Obama’s initial statement on September 12. One would think that his campaign would have made the effort to double-check the support for one of his biggest attacks of the night.
It has been taken for granted for weeks that the attack on the consulate was a political liability for Obama, and it still could be, but Romney flubbed his criticisms so badly that he turned it into an advantage for his opponent. He took an issue where he had a clear opening and advantage and completely failed to drive the point home. It was a measure of how much he was flailing in that exchange that Romney rattled off a list of his boilerplate remarks about international events, and these amounted to little more than a series of rehearsed complaints completely disconnected from any policy positions. It was Romney’s theme throughout the entire night: “Bad things are happening. I have no answers. Elect me.”
Romney has no foreign policy experience, and tonight everyone clearly saw that. He is superficially conversant with foreign policy issues, but hasn’t taken the time to learn enough about them to speak about them effectively or persuasively. Romney’s bad judgment and his lack of preparation on this front were on display, and it has probably become clear to a much wider audience that Romney lacks important qualifications for the Presidency.
The debate had already been going quite well for Obama during the first hour, and it seemed that Romney’s best chance would have been to trip up Obama on a question related to Libya. As it turned out, Romney couldn’t recover. Aside from a somewhat effective attack on the Fast and Furious operation, there was no part of the debate where Romney had the upper hand. It was a clear Obama win, and nearly as lopsided in his favor as it was for Romney in the first debate.