Neither candidate wanted to talk much about foreign policy, and so they spent a lot of time making their signature domestic points. Insofar as it was an economic debate, Romney won. He did play the card—often—of saying the most important foreign policy issue is strengthening our economy at home. At one point the candidates, working together, gave us the impression that the key to American global dominance is small businesses and small classes.

But they did talk some on foreign policy. And then Obama prevailed. He was fairly successful in portraying Romney as uninformed and out-of-touch, even scoring, I think, with an outrageously condescending riff on ships. Romney did not succeed in explaining how he would handle this or that situation differently and more prudently. It was hard to tell the difference between his view and the president’s on Syria, Libya, Egypt, even Iran, etc. Romney tried the “apology tour” theme, and it backfired to some extent.

But you could still say that Romney’s strategy of being all for peace (principled peace) and even attacking Obama some from the left worked. The CNN study that showed Obama winning the debate also showed Romney coming off as a good potential commander-in-chief. So maybe Romney wasn’t really hurt. He would keep us as safe as the president has. We can wish that Romney had aimed higher and gone more on the offensive. He even basically gave the president a pass on Libya.

Both candidates lacked energy, but Romney especially. They had to sweat to make the evening interesting.

So no mo’ for Mitt from this debate. But we can hope that his surge—based on the need for economic change—will continue.

UPDATE: I just saw Carl’s post below. It’s good and doesn’t really disagree with mine.

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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