Romney Needed Better Answers on Libya, Taxes, and Gender Inequality
The debate was a tie, but Romney needed to present a clearer policy picture
October 17, 2012
Contrary to today's conventional wisdom awarding President Barack Obama the trophy, this debate was a tie. Both candidates had an equal share of good and bad moments, but neither distinguished themselves as best. The president showed style; he took command and kept Mitt Romney on the defensive, but he didn't do well on substance. Romney spoke in a well-organized fashion, but when it came to topics outside campaign agenda—those that he probably weren't anticipated during his preparation—he seemed lost: case in point, his answer to the question on workplace gender inequality.
The president was most effective when he countered Romney's tax plan and explained how he handled the September 11 attack on the Libyan consulate. He made a good argument that a spending cut-only deficit reduction plan wouldn't work. He also tied his view back to the middle class. A solid strategy given that the middle class compromise the largest segment of voters. His answers also played on class differences; a friction that has contributed to political conflict over the course of American history. Obama particularly put icing on the cake in his closing statement when he brought up Romney's "47 percent" comment. This will play well to liberals who after the first debate were about two seconds away from jumping off a cliff.
Romney miscalculated the effectiveness of his response to the question on Libya. He should have avoided questioning the veracity of the president's statements on the shooting. It was a bad strategy, and only reinforced the perception that he isn't ready to handle foreign policy. Candy Crowley's fact-checking correction coupled with the audience's laughter brought to mind the series of missteps he made this past summer. Romney would have been better off providing a clear policy plan on how he'd deal with these situations—rather than trying to score points with the GOP base. Now, this is not to say that the Obama campaign isn't going to continue to be plagued by the Libya problem over the next 20 days; there are far too many questions as to why Ambassador Chris Steven's requests for more security went unheeded.
The Bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates needs to think hard about debate formats moving forward. Town halls don't work: The questions are not well-constructed, and it's difficult for viewers to follow along. Not to mention, the traditional debate format no longer works. It's a format designed back in the 1960s—when television was a new medium. Media is much different today, with a rich and diverse means of engaging the public. Perhaps integrating Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook into the 90 minutes would draw greater interest, and also provide voters with a much more informative perspective on the candidates.