Joe Scarborough: Mitt Romney wins debate season
Barack Obama won on points last night. But that victory may not have been enough to undo the damage done to the president by this year's debate season.
President Obama came into the first debate in Denver as a heavyweight champ circling his battered, over-matched foe. But Obama let the challenger off the mat and deliver enough blows to change the contest's momentum in dramatic fashion. The next debate was a messy tossup round that barely went to Barack, and last night continued that trend.
Now the question is whether Big Mo stays with Mitt.
But there is no question that Barack Obama outclassed Mr. Romney on the topic of foreign policy. The Republican nominee was nervous, his answers were formulaic and Romney seemed to be reciting scripts rather than debating foreign policy. That became even more evident when the tone shifted to domestic policy and the confidence Mitt Romney showed in Denver came shining through.
Still, Romney did enough things right to keep the momentum going his way. The former Massachusetts governor's tone was nearly perfect and he abandoned the hard neoconservative line that had concerned more traditional conservatives like myself. Call it flip flopping if you like. I actually believe that realist approach fits Romney better and will be his governing philosophy if he ever becomes commander-in-chief. It's hard to imagine a man so driven by data being swept up in a Wilsonian worldview. Unlike George W. Bush, I seriously doubt President Romney would promise the end of tyranny across the globe anymore than he would vow to stop the rising of the oceans.
President Obama showed superior knowledge to his challenger on almost every question raised involving foreign policy. But I found his tone, at times, to be jarring for a sitting commander in chief. I would roll my eyes at a cable news pundit who used the line "The 80s called and they want their foreign policy back." But that line is cringe-inducing from a president. His snarky response to Mitt Romney's legitimate concern about the shrinking size of the U.S. Navy was also unfortunate.
"You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916," President Obama said. "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines," he said.
It was an answer, no doubt, that got partisan Democrats to their feet across the country. But the response from swing voters across America (and especially Virginia) was probably less enthusiastic. Humor plays well in presidential debates. Biting sarcasm does not.
Still, Barack Obama clearly won the final presidential debate. I'm just not so sure this morning that his performance last night in Boca will ensure this commander in chief another four years.