The post-debate topic of the morning is Romney’s whiff on the Libya question.
It seems to me he could have done much better, too, on the low-hanging-fruit opportunity that both candidates got to clarify misconceptions about them. It was the last question of the debate; there’s no telling how many millions of people had stopped watching by that point. But Romney should have been prepared to knock it out of the park. He didn’t. Here’s the heart of Romney’s response:
In the nature of a campaign, it seems that some campaigns are focused on attacking a person rather than prescribing their own future and the things they’d like to do. And in the course of that, I think the president’s campaign has tried to characterize me as — as someone who — who is very different than who I am.
I care about a hundred percent of the American people. I want a hundred percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future. I care about our kids. I understand what it takes to — to make a bright and prosperous future for America again. I — I spent my life in the private sector, not in government. I’m a guy who wants to help, with the experience I have, the American people.
My — my — my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God, and I believe we’re all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I — I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I’ve sat across the table from people who were — were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times. …
Uppermost on Romney’s mind, clearly, was the “47 Percent” video. As many pundits observed in real time on Twitter, President Obama had not yet brought it up. Whether Romney purposefully preempted him or planned to close in this manner on the (mistaken) assumption that Obama would have mentioned it earlier, I have no idea. In any case, I think Romney was somewhat foolish to go there. The problem is not simply that he doesn’t care about the 47 percent; it’s the deeper impression of why he doesn’t. To wit, that he’s a “vulture capitalist,” as Gov. Rick Perry put it during the primary. A wanton plunderer of healthy businesses, as former Speaker Newt Gingrich put it.
Here was an opening for Romney to address the private equity question — to try to explain in plain, nonthreatening terms what he used to do for a living. He could have mentioned, as he frequently does, that he invested in successful businesses like Staples and Sports Authority. Moreover, he could have said that the job of a management consultant is ultimately to help businesses find ways to thrive in a challenging economic environment. There are myriad ways that he could have hung a human face on his tenure at Bain Capital (in truth I’m not the best person to frame those arguments, because I’m more inclined than not to agree with the industry’s critics). And the timing of the question would have allowed Romney to do so without rebuttal from President Obama.
The 47 percent video was damaging because it fit so neatly into the picture of Romney that the Obama campaign had painted all summer. It didn’t raise new fears about Romney. It confirmed old, well-established ones. Romney needed to address those fears last night. He made an effort — but not, in my estimation, a very persuasive one.