Whatever anyone else says, Mitt Romney scored but another decisive victory in his third and final debate with Barack Obama on Monday night.
Beforehand, Republicans tended to speak as if they thought that it was all but a foregone conclusion that their man would crush the President on foreign policy. Obama, after all, is an “appeaser” and an “apologist.” He is an opponent of “American Exceptionalism” and insufficiently warm toward Israel. With the recent revelations regarding the scandal that is the attack on our embassy in Libya, Republicans were that much more confident that Romney would decimate his rival.
None of this came to pass.
And it is a good thing too.
You see, the country is fatigued with Obama, yes, but this most certainly does not mean that it has yet exorcised the specter of George W. Bush.
If Republicans know this, they seem to forget it.
As his performance in last night’s debate amply demonstrated, at least one Republican is well aware of it.
Romney knows that it was largely because of what most Americans viewed as their exceedingly aggressive foreign policy that they cashiered Republicans in 2006 and 2008. He knows that for however much some of his fellow partisans favored Bush, only 30% of the rest of the country did by the time Bush left office.
Americans are weary of Obama, it is true, but they remain at least as weary of Bush.
Romney knows this.
So does Obama.
And Romney knows that Obama and his surrogates have wanted for nothing more than to convince the electorate that the resurrection of Republican dominance promises to augur in the return of a hyper-aggressive foreign policy.
In other words, Romney knows that Obama has been chomping at the bit to scare the country into thinking that a vote for the former Massachusetts governor and his party is a vote for war.
The third and final debate would have been Obama’s last real chance to cast Romney into the mold of the reckless, stupid cowboy that Democrats have been imposing upon Republicans for decades. Time and time again, the President tried to do just that.
Time and time again, he failed.
Romney did not accept Obama’s bait—and his self-restraint paid off.
Stylistically and substantively, Romney came across as strong, definitely, but also peace-loving. Conversely, on both accounts, it is the President who appeared to be the aggressor.
Romney needed to distance himself from Bush—and he did it in spades. In fact, with his cheery demeanor—a demeanor that was that much more noticeable on account of its juxtaposition for 90 minutes with his opponent’s visible anger—Romney was more reminiscent of Ronald Reagan than anyone else.
It is worth noting that distinguishing himself from Bush isn’t the only bird that Romney hit last night. His stone landed dead upon another: in making himself look good, he shed a not so flattering light upon Obama.
Obama was aggressive and angry. He would have appeared as such even if his countenance wasn’t juxtaposed with Romney’s chipper and affable persona. Given the stark contrast between the two though, a visitor from another planet could be forgiven for thinking that if anyone seemed prone to launch another war, it was the current occupant of the White House—not his challenger.
To repeat, the verdict on the final presidential debate of 2012 is unambiguous: Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama handily.