The snap polls may show a tie or a small victory for President Obama, but Mitt Romney emerged the real winner from last night’s debate. He struck the exact tone he needed to: measured, competent, presidential.
The result was that Romney often looked like the incumbent on stage, and Obama often like the challenger. While Obama tried to draw blood with small jabs (the bayonets line, the nit-picking about Romney’s investments), these made the president seem petty and contemptuous. Romney stayed above the fray.
The Obama campaign has alternated between claiming Romney has the same ideas as Obama on foreign policy, and accusing him of being a warmonger. Last night, the president played into the former. It’s not true, but it’s the best counter-argument Romney could have hoped for in a debate when he’s reaching out to moderate and undecided voters. While Romney stayed away from silly zingers, he managed to get in a few stinging critiques: “Attacking me is not a foreign policy”; “America has not dictated to other nations. America has freed other nations”; and “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. We should not have wasted those four years.”
Romney already trumps Obama on economic issues. Few people are voting based on foreign policy; the vast majority of voters just needed to know that Romney was competent and trustworthy on the issue. He easily met that threshold last night, which made him the clear winner.