Many conservatives felt disappointment with Mitt Romney for not taking charge more during the foreign policy debate. Talking with my friends Lisa Richards, Lisa Graas, and Rebecca Diserio of Fidelis Radio Network Monday night after the debate, I expressed a sentiment others would admit the next morning: Romney just didn’t hit hard enough. He said great things but, as with Obamacare, again deferred from attacking the president on his most vulnerable failure, Benghazi.
I thought that he “won” the debate on points but knew the establishment narrative would still spin it into a victory for the president.
Turns out that was Romney’s plan all along. He wasn’t talking to either his base or the journalistic saboteurs who would declare his failure. His goal: get the undecideds to realize he wasn’t a wide-eyed warmonger. And, as we began to realize as the polls and reactions came in, it worked:
Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.
Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.
After a commanding first debate performance and a generally good month, Romney has gained ground with Americans on a number of important fronts, including their confidence in how he would handle the economy and their impressions of his ability to understand their problems.
At the Corner after the debate, Obama’s most underrated critic, Spreading the Wealth author Stanley Kurtz, invoked Aesop’s Fables to explain Romney’s long-game method, “Tortoise Ties: Hare’s Concerned“:
During the first half of the debate, Romney was playing for a tie while Obama was playing for a win. That made a certain sense. As commander-in-chief, Obama has an inherent advantage on foreign policy. So long as Romney stands toe-to-toe and achieves a rough equality with a sitting president on foreign policy, he gains credibility and keeps his momentum in this race…. Partway through the debate, however, Romney started pushing for the win. His pivot to the economy might have seemed like evasion, but Obama followed him into domestic policy because he saw the risk of not answering the challenge. This put Romney on familiar ground and you could see his confidence grow.
Then Romney came hard at Obama on Iran, Israel, and the general decline of America’s influence in the world. The look on Obama’s face as Romney was discussing Democratic concerns about his Israel policy was pained. It was the first time he lost his confident stare. Then Romney did what he does best, paint a picture of general decline in America’s fortunes abroad under Obama’s stewardship. This worked almost as well on foreign policy as it does when Romney applies it to domestic policy. It was the pivotal moment of the debate.
By the end I thought Romney had at least won his tie, and maybe even inched out victory by a nose. He did it by playing offense at critical moments during a generally restrained, respectful, and competent performance. In effect, Romney carefully pivoted between playing for a tie and a win, and the strategy worked.
That’s what we need in a commander-in-chief: someone who can analyze the threat and “carefully pivot” to the appropriate option whether it’s to pull back, negotiate, or strike hard. Even though he restrained himself, Romney still managed to deliver some precise strikes, like this sharp hit referencing “Mr. Putin“:
How did Mitt Romney develop such a level of self-control?