Even though I suggest you watch the third Presidential Debate — hopefully the sit-down format won’t revive the incessant smiling and interrupting of the last such format — I really don’t expect much to emerge that will change anything at this point in the race.
Romney knows foreign policy much better than most give him credit for. Having followed him closely for the last six years and read his book No Apology — which he wrote himself — I am confident he’ll be able to easily convince the American people that he is competent and knowledgeable. And that’s all they’ll need to see.
The only thing that could turn the debate against Romney is if he stumbles in a way that, quite simply, he just doesn’t do that often. Say what you will about his lack of pizazz, but his extraordinary levels of competency mean he seldom makes an unforced error. You just don’t reach his level of success under pressure in the real world by tripping over yourself.
Obama, on the other hand, could dig himself a historical hole by his performance tonight. Having gone on record as being offended that anyone (including himself and those in his Administration apparently) might play politics with a terrorist attack, he will need to explain his misleading claim in the last debate about having labeled the attack in Benghazi an “act of terror” the very next day. I think pretty much everyone has figured out that little bit of misdirection.
Here are three questions that, if asked, might produce something newsworthy at the debate tonight:
- Who was responsible for the lack of security in Benghazi after numerous and urgent requests for additional security? What consequences await those responsible?
- After you insisted that the safety of US ambassadors is one of your highest priorities, was VP Biden right that you and he were not aware of the requests for security from the ambassador in Libya? When did you learn of the requests exactly? If Biden was right, do you find it disturbing that such information was kept from you and that instead you were, apparently, told it was a random act inspired by a YouTube video?
- Given that we now know that the State Department and Intelligence community knew the truth about Benghazi shortly after the attack, why did your UN Ambassador, your own press Secretary, and you, Mr. President, not label it a terrorist attack, instead suggesting the violence in Benghazi was triggered by YouTube video posted by an American citizen?
As if on cue to signal the trouble in the Obama campaign, Bill Clinton affirmed what I predicted last week when Hillary claimed full responsibility for the security lapses. She jumped ship by claiming the “presidential leader” mantle. Her move forced Barack to publicly state that the buck stopped with him — leaving her looking the better leader for going first and letting her off the hook for 2016. I said then to watch for Bill to provide cover for her by offering one of his typically deprecating complements of Obama. He obliged right here in Cleveland a few days later when he claimed Obama had not fixed the economy and might just cry about it.
Thanks, Bill, for kicking off the Hillary 2016 tour.
Most likely, tonight won’t do much to budge the needle unless Obama stumbles in answering the questions on Libya. I expect the momentum to continue to bend even more toward Romney in the days afterwards in the same way they broke toward Reagan in 1980 once the debates concluded.
It will be time to choose. Romney will have proved himself better than just a viable alternative — and that’s more than most people needed to see.