Debate Results Last Night: Obama Takes Benghazi Off Table, Takes Romney To Task

11:05 PM wrap-up:

Tonight, the idea of three-dimensional chess gained a little bit more credibility. There’s no way that the President’s pathetic performance in the first debate was part of a directional narrative, but looking at it from this point, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that Axelrod had a larger strategy for the debates – in other words, to reduce expectations and make the Romney campaign overconfident so that Obama could come out of the gate in number two and three and wreck him.

At the very least, this was rope-a-dope at its finest. Obama’s best moment in terms of humor was the “bayonets”. Absolutely rehearsed, but epically hilarious nonetheless – perfectly crafted for memes. If you are the one making the good joke and your opponent is looking like a fool, that’s the most important thing in a 21st century debate where the real game is the internet-driven spin afterwards.

What probably won’t be talked about is Obama’s impassionate comeback to Mitt’s apology tour accusation. By pivoting to stories of his trip to Israel, and anecdotes about the people he saw and the things he experienced, he took a lot of the power out of the Republican line that he’s anti-Israel.

This debate also has to be a disappointment for the Republicans – for the simple reason that President Obama came out of this debate without taking any serious punches on Benghazi. All of this week’s wind-up was for a punch that never came – but perhaps that’s because there was no way to land it.

Moving forward, that is going to be the effect of this debate. Benghazi was taken off the table. Going forward, we will be talking about bayonets instead. However, there is the theory that the undecided voters (however few they may be) are undecided because they don’t like either candidate very much. If that’s the case, then they are probably looking for a reason to vote against either one of them.

And if that’s also the case, then the President may have “disqualified” Mitt Romney in the eyes of enough independent voters to matter – since the race is so close as it stands. 

10:30 PM: Romney just said "Obama will get us to $20 trillion in debt by the end of his term. I will get us on track." Worth mentioning that the Paul Ryan plan, which Mitt has more-than-tacitly endorsed doesn't actually get rid of the debt until the 2060s.

10:21 PM: I'm really disappointed that we didn't get into a national conversation about drone strikes just now. It's not politically correct, but you could make the uncomfortable argument that having an airforce that periodically and randomly brings death down on the townsfolk of Pakistan is probably closer to terrorism than much else we could do.

The problem is, we've killed a lot of Al-Qaeda leaders using these methods. And there is collateral damage in any way --- we did the same thing in World War II and it was what we needed to do.

It still gives me a really sick feeling inside. So the issue is hard to sort out. But looking back in ten or twenty years, I fear that our haphazard use of drones in foreign countries is going to be pinned down as the cause of the terrorism of that time.

Also, a good question by Bob Schieffer would have been: What would your policy be if Russia or China sent drones to Venezuela to do strikes in Mexico? We are setting a precedent here that we are not going to stand for when other people do it too.

10:13 PM: Well, they just glossed over drone strikes pretty quickly.

10:10 PM: Let's imagine if either John McCain or Mitt Romney (or Sarah Palin) were President right now. Would we be talking about the drawdown of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? No. Nor would we be talking about the drawdown of the Iran war. Republicans are only talking about this because the actions of President Obama have allowed it and vindicated the left's position on both wars.

10:08 PM: It's really sad that this is probably the first time that we are talking on a national scale about veterans. We have to take care of the troops there by withdrawing them, and make sure to take care of them when they get back. Until President Obama started to do both, we weren't talking about this.

10:02 PM: On the optics, this debate is going to President Obama for sure. The split-screen is making it evident: Governor Romney is looking unsure of himself, and his face has the expression of a guy who's in over his head. One thinks about that reaction shot to President Obama's "Please proceed, Governor" from last debate. That's what's on Mitt Romney's face right now. (And "Please proceed, Governor" is on Obama's face this whole time.)

The line of the night? Unquestionably, the line about bayonets, horses and aircraft carriers.

The second line of the night? Obama's impassioned counter to Mitt's petty, petty attack on the apology tour.

Both of these were probably rehearsed, but rehearsed very, very well --- and importantly, delivered at the perfect time.

9:50 PM: Some required reading for tonight, my piece on Obama's unequivocal support for Israel, despite disagreeing on some aspects of policy.

9:49 PM: Did you know that Disney World has the fifth largest navy in the world?

9:44 PM: Oh my God. Bayonets and horses. That is brilliant. That's the line of the debate. Especially because Romney got no chance to respond.

9:39 PM: Regarding the debt: How are we going to get to a balanced budget while adding $2 trillion to defense? And giving tax cuts to the rich?

The policies that Mitt Romney is promoting, thus, will force us to gut the vital government spending that keeps our economy competitive. And we know that the Republicans accept this Keynesian idea on a certain level, because one of their big arguments against cutting the military is that jobs will be lost.

So this is just political posturing. And as I said, weird posturing because this discussion about the deficit started by talking about something Ahmadinejad said.

9:31 PM: It strikes me that Mitt Romney uses Ahmadinejad’s critique of the debt against the President. Imagine if President Obama used Ahmadinejad’s words as a bludgeon against Mitt Romney. Wouldn’t the far right say they were in league? That we shouldn’t trust Iran’s leader, or any antagonists whatsoever?

9:28 PM: One of the big challenges that Mitt Romney have vis-à-vis the Arab Spring is reconciling the myriad of positions he and his parties have had on the various uprisings. Are we promoting democracy or Americans interests? Those things don’t always line up. Sometimes the voters elect parties that aren’t fond of us.

 The Arab Spring offers a perfect opportunity to highlight the issues with promoting democracy in all circumstances. When Mitt Romney says “I wish he’d had a better vision of the future”, the implication is that he’d have imposed his view on Egypt, and gotten into influencing their elections.

Needless to say, that’s not democracy. 

9:22 PM: What would Mitt do differently? He'd make sure to get em!

9:19 PM: I really like Obama's answer here --- that circumstances are really what dictate foreign policy, not principle.

9:10 PM: This Cold War attack is good. Mitt Romney won't be able to pivot if President Obama hits him hard on his record. This is a rehearsed line but it's effective. I'd imagine these are the first time people are heading Mitt's policies.

9:08 PM: Go after the bad guys! What a strategy.

9:07 PM: It's good to see President Obama focused and confident. He should be. Even on Libya. I'm very curious to see what Mitt's response will be here. It is really important to point out the difference between the Obama doctrine vis-a-vis limited intervention and Bush/Romney-style topple-and-replace-regimes intervention.

Not only does it make a difference in lives but it makes a difference to our treasury.

9:05 PM: I thought that Russia was our number one geopolitical foe?

9:03 PM: Bob Schieffer opening with a reference will mean different things to the left and right. To the left, the broad scope of international affairs that Republicans don't understand. To the right, the idea that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe.

8:40 PM For anyone who doesn't have a TV handy, check out the live feed here:

DEBATE PREVIEW

The stakes for tonight's presidential debate could not be higher — the horse race is as tight as the rhetoric is fierce. The lingering uncertainty about the state of the race means that tonight, each candidate has the opportunity to pull ahead, both in the polls and in the national conversation.

The stage: Last week's debate set off a firestorm over the Obama adminstration's reaction to September's consulate attack in Benghazi. Governor Romney claimed the president didn't respond appropriately, and was stunningly shot down by the moderator on that point. To salvage their candidate's performance, the right wing has been attempting to argue — in spite of widely-available video footage — that Governor Romney was actually right. 


This has forced the Obama administration to argue semantics rather than the broader issues of the fluid nature of intelligence gathering, Republicans cutting embassy security, why it matters who called it what when and whether there is a more sinister aspect to all this that speaks to Romney's neo-conservative roots.

You can expect obfuscation over word choice to happen tonight, because the other arguments Romney can't win. New public information will likely help the President, if he can make the argument: The Los Angeles Times reported the Obama administration's statements accurately reflected the available intelligence at the time, and the Washington Post reported that "terrorist attack" versus "spontaneous reaction" is a false choice.

While it may be possible to make this argument, connecting with a public not-always-in-the-know on foreign affairs, and more concerned with jobs will be harder. The president will have to find a way to break it down without appearing aggressive or professorial. At the very least, President Obama should be able to skewer Romney for politicizing the affair.

Of course, there's a whole world to debate beyond Libya. But the firestorm around Benghazi means that the president will have to waste precious time defending his response to this event, rather than going after Mitt Romney for his zero foreign policy credentials, hitting him on his embrace of Bush-era neo-conservatism, trumpeting his own accomplishments or — perhaps most importantly — laying out a second-term vision for the future.

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