Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
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The strategic mistake was the challenger's. Frequently agreeing with Obama, attempting to hug the most popular portions of the president's foreign policy, Romney wanted to shine for America as the sunny optimist. In short: He tried to be Mitt Reagan. But he ended up as Mitt Romney — on his back, on the mat, a bloody mess.
A snap poll by CBS scored the fight OBAMA: 53; ROMNEY: 23, TIE: 24. Indeed, the 30-point margin of victory was larger than the 24-point win the same poll gave to Romney in the aftermath of the notorious first debate.
Here the four key blows in the debate beat-down we'd all been waiting for.
1) You Sank My Battleship
Mitt Romney's foreign policy has never been more than a laundry list of tough-talk. He reliably repeats the same jingoistic claptrap every time he hits the national stage, and Obama had evidently been studying Mitt's material.
When Romney tried to justify his plan to increase Pentagon spending by $2 trillion, he launched into his familiar complaint that, ship for ship, "our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917." Obama then delivered the breakthrough zinger of the debates — one that sent #horsesandbayonets trending on Twitter worldwide.
2) A Gaffe of Palinesque Proportions
Needling Romney as though he's a child who sees the U.S. Navy like a game of Battleship was devastating. And the president's one-liner underscored the damning ignorance Romney had displayed earlier in the debate.
Discussing Syria, Romney sought to paint the Assad regime as a proxy for Iran. Fair enough. But then he completely bollixed his Middle East geography. "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world," he said, "It's their route to the sea."
For fuck's sake. It's called the Persian Gulf because it runs along the coastline of Persia — aka, Iran. And while we're at it, Syria and Iran don't even share a border — there's a little country called Iraq in the middle. So even if Iran were landlocked, Syria still wouldn't provide any "route to the sea."
This was Romney's most jaw-dropping gaffe of all three debates, and it is all but disqualifying.
3) "Wrong and Reckless Leadership"
The president was both ruthless and efficient in calling out Romney's flip-floppery on foreign policy. This exchange, from the opening moments of the debate, bears quoting at length:
OBAMA: I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq despite the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day. You indicated that we shouldn't be passing nuclear treaties with Russia, despite the fact that 71 senators, Democrats and Republicans, voted for it.4) Built Beijing Tough
You've said that first we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan, then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong but you were also confusing and sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.
What we need . . . with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map.
This was supposed to be the foreign policy debate, but the conversation pivoted, predictably, back to issues closer to the heart of the Rust Belt.
Romney's got an unfortunate record on the auto bailout — "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" — that you might have read about. And the president called him out on it in the context of shipping jobs overseas. After hitting the former Bain executive on his history outsourcing, Obama played the Detroit card to full effect: "I've made a different bet on American workers," the president said. "If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we'd be buying cars from China."
Romney tried to defend the indefensible, smiling like a serial killer and insisting, "I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry" — before slashing wildly at the most innovative car company on the planet, Tesla motors, painting it as the automotive equivalent of Solyndra.
Mitt Romney, you may be a "son of Detroit," but if the Model S doesn't move you, governor, you're no car guy.