1. There is some good news for Romney in the coming foreign policy debate. The expectations for Romney’s performance among the political class are as low as they could be. The Libya thing ironically helps here. People are expecting the love child of Inspector Clouseau and Buck Turgidson, so if he comes across as reasonable and well informed, it is a draw. I’m just not sure he can pull it off.
And pretty much everyone outside of the hardcore partisan left knows that Candy Crowley called the game in favor of Obama. She let Obama talk more and yet she still interrupted Romney a multiple of her interruptions of Obama. She intervened to give her interpretation of events and the intervention was (of course) on Obama’s side. Even liberals like Jonathan Chait admit that the questions she selected leaned left. Reasonable and honest people can disagree about the reasons for Crowley’s partisan performance. But I still think that the Candy Crowleys of the world want to think of themselves as above partisan passion in how they do their job. Candy Crowley went into the last debate determined not to be the Jim Lehrer that her liberal friends mocked. The social dynamics are such that the next moderator is likely to try to avoid being the next Candy Crowley. I think that the moderator in the next debate will try harder to hold both sides up to the same standard of behavior and ask tough questions of both sides. So Romney should get as close to a fair shake from the moderator as he is ever going to get.
2. But I’m just not sure how much that helps Romney. He has no real experience of foreign affairs and is visibly uncomfortable talking about the issue. He tries to sound like Ronald Reagan, but conservatives have lost sense of the range of Reagan’s foreign policy rhetoric. He spent a lot of time trying to reassure people that he was basically a reasonable guy who wanted peace and that force was a last resort. Romney usually sounds like he is trying to impersonate Fred Thompson impersonating Ronald Reagan. And Thompson does a lousy Reagan impersonation.
3. And Romney’s political incentives are pretty messed up. For all practical intents and purposes, a significant fraction of his base responds to foreign crises by asking WWJD. What Would John [McCain] Do? John McCain would extend the surge in Afghanistan. John McCain would deepen US involvement in Syria. That isn’t necessarily what the median voters wants. So there is a conflict there. It is even worse since Romney isn’t John McCain. McCain would have some credibility with his party if he took a less interventionist line. The median voter could at least respect McCain’s political courage, public spiritedness, and seriousness, even in disagreement. Even if they thought McCain was wrong, the median voter would hardly doubt that he was sincere and informed (by the standards of public officials.) Romney has no such credibility with either group. That means he can’t bend toward one to please the other and trying to craft a policy and language that actually appeals to both is beyond my ability.
Luckily James Ceaser has the best set of suggestions I’ve seen over on this thread. I especially like “So I would not say I would not apologize, I would just say I would have handled it this way…” Just right. I would also suggest that Romney retire the “apology tour” talking point. The only people who have lost sleep about any “apology tour” are already voting for Romney. To everybody else it is either incomprehensible (what is he talking about?) or petty.
Also I would make Ceaser and Carl Scott foreign policy assistants after the election.
4. Despite it all, I still think that Romney won the debate on the economic issues and that this matters. As this NRO post says, Romney gained about a point in all three of the daily tracking polls today. The most recent night of polling would have been yesterday (the first night of polling after the debate), and there is no sign of an Obama bounce from the debate. If an Obama bounce does develop, I suspect it will be more a result of debate commentary than the debate itself. Part of that problem would be that the center-right wasn’t confident enough of Romney’s performance in the debate. Sure the Libya exchange was the most telegenic, but Romney pasted Obama on the issues that mattered most to voters. On the other hand, Obama’s job approval is still between 49% and 50% and it will be tough for Romney to break away as long as that is the case.