Winners and losers from the final presidential debate

October 22, 2012

And just like that, the 2012 presidential election debates are over.

President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney traded blows on foreign policy for 90 minutes in Boca Raton tonight. So, who won and who lost? We try to answer both of those questions below.

Agree or disagree with our picks? Tell us why in the comments section.

WINNERS

* President Obama: Obama controlled the third presidential debate in a way not all that dissimilar from the way Romney controlled the first one. Obama clearly came loaded for bear, attacking Romney from the jump for a lack of clarity when it came to his vision (or lack thereof) on foreign policy. If you are looking for moments -- and remember that the media coverage over the next few days will focus on just that -- Obama had two with his line about "the 1980s calling" in regards to Romney's foreign policy and his reference to "horses and bayonets" to call into question his rival's understanding of the modern military.   It's possible that Obama came off too hot/not presidential in some of his attacks but Democrats will take a little too much heat following Obama's cold-as-ice performance in the first debate. Obama came across as the more confident and commanding presence -- by a lot. 

* Bob Schieffer: Yes, there was a section in the middle of the debate where the two candidates got into an extended conversation about class size and things looked like they might go completely off the tracks. But, to Schieffer's credit he did a solid job of balancing the need to keep some sort of structure in the debate while at the same time letting the two men litigate out their difference. Also, huge credit to Schieffer for injecting a bit of humor into the proceedings; his rebuke of Romney for demanding more time brought a smile to the faces of both candidates and his wry "I think we all love teachers" line felt pitch perfect. 

* Zingers: Remember in the runup to the first debate how Obama insisted that Romney would focus on "zingers" and he would talk about substance? By the third debate, Obama seemed to have decided that a few zingers thrown in here and there couldn't hurt.  His line that "the 1980s are calling to have their foreign policy back" is likely to be the most memorable one of the night (and maybe of the entire presidential debate season).  

* Mali: Two mentions in the first 10 minutes of the debate ain't too shabby. Now, quick, what is the capital of Mali? Bamako!

* "Tumult": By our count, Romney used the word five times to describe a situation happening in the world. Somewhere "uproar", "turmoil" and "hubbub" are grimacing.

LOSERS

* Mitt Romney: Romney clearly decided to play it safe in this debate -- whether because he thought he was ahead and will win if he doesn't screw up or because he knows that foreign policy isn't his strong suit.  But, as NFL teams (re)learn every year, playing the prevent defense almost never works. Romney was constantly trying to parry Obama attacks; he knocked some down but plenty got through too.  Romney also struggled to differentiate how his foreign policy would offer a break with what Obama has pursued over the past four years. And, he seemed uninterested in attacking Obama on Libya, a baffling strategic decision. Romney was, not surprisingly, at his best when talking about how the economic uncertainty in this country led to uncertainty for the country more broadly but he just didn't do enough of it to win.

* Foreign policy: It was probably inevitable that a real discussion of America's role in the world wasn't going to happen amid polling that suggests that voters overwhelmingly care about the economy in this country. After about 15 minutes of trying to stay on the announced topic, both Obama and Romney started to talk at least as much about domestic policy as foreign policy. The two candidates' closing statements were illustrative of this fact; neither man made more than a passing mention of foreign policy. It's hard to imagine that any voter seeking a more detailed explanation of the two candidates' views on a broad swath of foreign policy matters got it tonight.

* St. Louis Cardinals: Where's your big game 7 comeback this time around? Why couldn't you have laid down like this in Game 5 against the Nationals? Come on!

* Fiskers: First, Justin Bieber's gets towed. Then Romney attacks the pricey enviro-friendly car. Tough couple of weeks.

Related:

Obama keeps Romney on his heels

Fact-checking the debate: From Detroit to bin Laden

Memorable moments from the final debate

Analysis: Final debate leads to some common ground

Full transcript of the foreign-policy debate

Full coverage at PostPolitics

 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | October 22, 2012