If there’s one thing that the first debate proved, it’s that Mitt Romney has an undeniable talent for obscuring and evading his own true positions. That will undoubtedly be on display again tonight, only this time, it will be in the realm of foreign policy. How should Obama combat this?
Mike Tomasky warns us about the avalance of deception we’re going to see from Romney, and counsels Obama on how to fight back:
If Romney is half as successful at lying about his his previous positions tonight as he was Oct. 3, and if Obama doesn’t challenge him aggressively, then Mittens will come out of tonight with some new momentum.
Romney will say things that are completely incompatible with each other. He’ll talk about encouraging moderate Arabs to step forward and then about no daylight with Israel. If the issue is Palestine, those two goals point in totally opposite directions and can’t be pursued at the same time. But most people don’t know that, and he may get away with it. A straightforward task for Obama tonight, but a big one and possibly a tricky one, is to point out these contradictions.
Yes, but keep in mind that Romney is coming from a position of greater weakness than during the first debate, which was all about the economy. Obama’s disapproval on the economy is high; Romney could make the case, thanks to his business background, that he had actual experience when it came to the central topic of the evening. Tonight, Romney won’t be able to make that argument.
What’s more, Obama has a far more straightforward argument to make tonight. That argument is as follows: I got Bin Laden, and I’m ending Bush's wars — what do you bring to the table? Obama’s argument on the economy has always been a tough and nuanced one to make. The flip side of this is that Romney’s argument on the economy is far easier to make than his argument about foreign policy has proven to be.
Romney’s argument on the economy is: You’re suffering, so get rid of the guy in charge and put in someone who knows how the economy works. In other words, on the economy, Romney has the status quo on his side. But when it comes to foreign policy it’s not clear voters mind the status quo as much. Though the numbers have shifted somewhat, Obama has generally gotten good marks on terrorism, national security, and basic leadership questions. It may prove harder for Romney to differentiate himself from Obama in the realm of foreign policy than in the economic realm.
This is true for both policy and temperament. Because Obama is associated with getting Bin Laden and ending Bush’s wars, Romney will have to lean heavily on Iran and Libya, where legitimate questions for Obama remain unanswered, to contrast himself favorably with Obama. He’ll do this by accusing Obama of “leading from behind” and proving too weak a leader to shape events in the middle east. But as Daniel Larison points out, the public appetite for a more hands on American role in the mideast just isn’t there. What’s more, Romney has already struggled in the past to explain what he’d do differently on Iran. In a less controlled setting such as a debate — on a topic that Obama knows better than Romney does — the potential for pratfalls in this regard is greater. And Obama may be able to focus the debate on Iraq and Afghanistan, where Romney just doesn’t have any clear way of differentiating himself from Obama that is likely to win public approval.
In some ways the debate may come down to whether Romney can look the part of commander in chief. But in this regard, Romney has already compromised himself. Obama will invoke his rush to judgment in the wake of the Libya killings — along with his poorly handled trip abroad and empty bluster towards Iran — to cast him as lacking the temperament and judgment to handle the complexities of representing America to the world.
So, yes, Romney will tell a whole bunch of lies tonight, and yes, Romney has proven extremely adept at evading his own previously held positions. But this arena may prove a much more difficult place to pull all this off.