Media: President Obama in fighting mood
By: Mackenzie Weinger
October 22, 2012 11:42 PM EDT
Top journalists and pundits reviewing the debate said Monday night it was clear President Barack Obama had come to the final faceoff spoiling for a fight with Mitt Romney, while the Republican nominee sought to fend off the attacks and maintain his momentum.
“I thought in the middle of the debate that if I had been on the desert island for the last four years and I had just been parachuted into this debate, I would have thought the guy that had turned out to be Mitt Romney was the president protecting a lead and that Barack Obama was the challenger trying, somewhat desperately to catch up,” Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said. “Obama was slashing, was personal, was cutting.”
His Fox News colleague Brit Hume agreed, saying that Obama had a “very intent look on his face” like a “man looking for opportunities to strike.”
On CNN, Candy Crowley, the moderator of the second presidential debate, said the candidates had two very different objectives tonight: Obama came to “rough up” Romney, while the Republican was seeking to preserve his new-found momentum.
“I think the president came to rough up Mitt Romney,” Crowley said. “I think he acted like a person that had to sort of stop some momentum by Romney. He went after him — ‘you’re all over the map, that’s not what you said before’ — I mean, almost every single answer from the president had something to do with Mitt Romney. I feel as though Mitt Romney approached this like a physician, first do no harm. I feel like he didn’t come in to necessarily win. I think he came in, you know, as a man who’s had a certain amount of momentum over the past three, four weeks since that first debate and not wanting to ruin it.”
NBC’s David Gregory also described the debate in terms of the president angling for a battle. The president was “determined to pick a fight” with Romney, who was “surprisingly, determined to avoid a fight, playing almost as if he was ahead, determined to sound more moderate, to disagree less with the president on foreign policy,” said the “Meet the Press” host.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer noted that except for a few “rhetorical flourishes,” there wasn’t much difference between the two candidates on foreign policy, he said.
“This was a debate where they wound up agreeing, even though there were nuances of disagreement, they wound up basically in terms of the big picture agreeing on a lot, on Iran, on Israel, on Afghanistan Libya, Syria, even on China, basically the thrust was one of agreement, even though at times they had little rhetorical flourishes against each other,” Blitzer said.
The Atlantic’s James Fallows also pointed out the similarities between the two candidates on foreign policy, writing that “it was more striking as a matter of substance that on virtually no issue did Romney make an actual criticism, of any sort, of Obama’s policy or record. Including topics where he used to disagree, like the timeline for withdrawal for Afghanistan! Instead it was, ‘I agree, but you should have done it better.’”
Meanwhile MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said Romney “had a strategy tonight — avoiding looking like a radical.”
“Avoiding the statements he’s made throughout the primaries and caucuses that put him on the far right, in terms of looking a bit dangerous. He pulled back, pulled back, pulled back,” the “Hardball” host said.
And his MSNBC colleague Ed Schultz called the debate a win for Obama and blasted Romney as giving the “worst performance of any Republican candidate on foreign policy that I can ever remember.”
“We just listened to the Republican candidate tell the American people that the president is doing a good job. This was the worst performance of any Republican candidate on foreign policy that I can ever remember. He was unsure of himself. He agreed with the president too much,” he said.
“The right wing is sitting there saying, ‘Who is this guy?’” Schultz added.
Rev. Al Sharpton added on MSNBC that “I have no idea what the Romney doctrine would be. It’s almost enough to make you miss George Bush. At least you knew he had a doctrine. No one knows what the in world, literally, Romney is talking about.”
The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes said that in Romney’s attempt to avoid a brawl he ended up spending a “good part of the night sounding like” Obama.
“Mitt Romney tried to be presidential bipartisan, sort of above the fray in obviously an effort not to sound like George W. Bush,” Hayes said on Fox News. “And the result, I think, was that in this effort not to sound like George W. Bush, he spent a good part of the night sounding like Barack Obama.”
William Kristol, however, wrote that he thought “Romney is more than holding his own with” Obama.
“Only two other challengers have done as well debating foreign policy with an incumbent president—Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and, to a lesser degree, Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush in 1992. Reagan and Clinton won. Romney is now on track to becoming the third challenger to win in the last 32 years—and the first in 80 years to defeat an incumbent who didn’t have a primary challenge,” he wrote on The Weekly Standard. “Tonight, Romney seems as fully capable as—probably more capable than—Barack Obama of being the next president. He probably will be.”
Daily Beast columnist Andrew Sullivan, who famously had a meltdown after the first debate over Obama’s performance, wrote that “Obama has clawed his way back in the following two, in my view.” Romney, meanwhile, “made no massive mistakes. No Gerald Ford moments,” he said.
“But this was Obama’s debate; and he reminded me again of how extraordinarily lucky this country has been to have had him at the helm in this new millennium. He’s flawed; he’s made mistakes; but who hasn’t? If this man, in these times, with this record, against this opposition, does not deserve re-election, then I am simply at a loss for words. I have to believe the American people will see that in time,” he wrote on The Daily Beast.
Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt said on MSNBC that it was Romney who came across as “reasonable, thoughtful, serious, presidential.”
“Not somebody who’s going to rashly start another war in the Middle East – person of circumspection, person of cautiousness – really more of a reset to a traditional style of foreign policy. And I think you could see it wear on President Obama during the debate,” Schmidt said, later adding that overall both candidates “did an effective job tonight.”
And Fox News’s Megyn Kelly described the night as having a “very different dynamic” from the previous presidential debates this cycle and said it wasn’t entirely clear what Romney’s strategy was during the debate.
“We were watching it together and wondering whether Mitt Romney was struggling to put distance between himself and Barack Obama’s policies or whether that was exactly his plan when going into the evening, to decline to put that distance between the two men. It was a a very different dynamic tonight,” she said.
And on CNN, John King said “there’s no question debate coaches would score this one for the president, I think.”
“However, I do think it’s very important, Governor Romney came in here trying not to be pushed to the right, he actually came to the middle. He’s the peace candidate, he’s the negotiation candidate, he does not want to start a war,” King added. “The president, in previous debates a lot of Democrats were mad that the president has let Gov. Romney move toward the center, the president challenged him more on that front. But Gov. Romney did have a bit of momentum coming in. The question is, does this impact the race, all this talk about Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and the like? I don’t know.”