Mitt Romney did what he had to do.
President Obama was the clear aggressor, but Romney couldn’t be shaken. He remained calm and disciplined, typically spouting non controversial platitudes, “hugging” Obama on areas where his policies are popular, and occasionally drawing a contrast on predetermined “safe” issues (such as not cutting defense spending, standing up to China, etc.)
The split screen frequently showed Obama leaning in, ready to pounce — while Romney was often seen wearing that semi-smile he has perfected. Obama often seemed angry and patronizing, while Romney often seemed serious, calm and friendly.
To be sure, many conservatives will be unhappy with Romney’s performance. They will say he should have vowed “not to bow” to foreign heads of state — and they will wish that he had said things like, “Nobody died in Watergate.”
But my guess is that Romney played it just about right. He demonstrated that he has the right sort of temperament to answer a 3 am phone call.
Sitting presidents always have a built-in advantage when it comes to foreign policy. President Obama, having served in the White House for nearly four years, has vastly more foreign policy experience than Romney. In this regard, for Romney, a “tie” is a win.
It is very unlikely the election will be decided on foreign policy. Romney needed to pass the Commander in Chief test — to demonstrate he’s a level headed and safe pick — precisely so he can then win the election on the economy.
Romney can now check off the “credible on foreign policy” box. And though the debate probably won’t be remembered for its “zingers,” Romney did have a few good lines, including: “America has not dictated to other nations — we have freed other nations from dictators,” and, “Attacking me is not an agenda.”
Perhaps most impressive is that Romney seems to have pulled off an amazing feat. Somehow, these last few weeks, he became the more likable, “regular”guy. He’s winning the “beer” test against Obama — which is a pretty remarkable development if you think about it.