If you are really concerned about foreign policy, Obama easily won this debate.
Over the course of 90 minutes, the candidates spent all but five minutes discussing either the Middle East or domestic policy. The remainder was devoted to forgettable China-bashing from each candidate. When the candidates were talking about foreign policy decision-making, Obama was able to cite a largely successful record.
On the other hand, on every issue from the Afghan War to Iranian nuclear proliferation to the Syrian civil war, Romney in effect said: “I’d do the same things that the president has been doing.” No serious person can argue that Romney landed any lasting punches on Obama in the area of foreign policy. (His one good argument, about the smallness of the Navy and Air Force, was taken apart by Obama’s “horses and bayonets” line.)
However, Romney won on domestic policy, hammering Obama’s record more pithily and effectively than in any previous debate. And stylistically, he was less abrasive than Obama, and looked at least as presidential, which is a big victory for the challenger.
It’s possible that Romney failed to distinguish himself from Obama on foreign policy because he is well aware that this election is going to be decided on the economy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Governor Romney gets a slight boost from this debate. The adage goes that if you want to know who won or lost a presidential debate, watch it with the sound off. While I was doing more listening than watching, I wouldn’t be surprised if Romney won on appearance. Obama was aggressive, which, as a liberal, I liked, but for a sitting president to be so incisive doesn’t look good. Romney kept his cool, and hit home on domestic policy. In those important respects, Romney did very well.
But on the (alleged) theme of this debate, foreign policy, Obama was stronger. He spoke fluently and with confidence, and hit Romney hard on his few unique proposals. The two percent of voters who consider foreign policy to be the most important issue of this election should be voting for Obama after tonight. The rest have a harder decision to make.
To follow the debate live and for real-time analysis, see here.