The Final Presidential Debate: Analysis & Commentary

by George Landrith

Post Debate Analysis:  Gov. Romney appeared to be the president and spoke about big themes and important issues. He was conversant on all the topic raised and clearly passed the “can he be the commander-in-chief test.  He also won the fact-checks on several key points of disagreement. Perhaps more importantly he appeared to be the guy with a lead.  Pres. Obama seemed to be the angry attacking challenger, not the president. At times he seemed petty and snarky. Many of his answers were “small ball” issues. His message wasn’t one of optimism.

The truth is Obama needed a big impressive win. He didn’t come close to that. The best you can say is that Obama won a close decision on points. But even that is a highly optimistic reading of the debate. But even if you believe Obama won in a close debate, Obama loses because he needed prevent Romney from being a reasonable alternative. He needed a knock-out — the sort of victory that Romney achieved in the first debate. Obama did nothing to change the momentum that has been favoring Romney for two weeks.

Romney needed only appear capable of being the Commander-in-Chief. He passed that test with flying colors. But Romney did more than that — far more than that. He made the case to Americans that he can be trusted to lead the nation. Romney went large. He was optimistic and his closing statement sounded Reaganesque. Obama went small and petty — even tiny. The contrast between Obama and Romney tonight was huge and it strongly favored Gov. Romney.

This debate will move more voters in Romney’s direction. That is why Romney won.

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10:33 p.m.  Romney’s closing statement was powerful. He looked and sounded presidential and positive. He reviewed the terrible economic losses of the past four years and explained how he will lead America back to strong and prosperous future. He made it clear he can work with folks in Washington, DC. He sounded positive and optimistic. It was a very strong ending for Romney.

10:31 p.m.  Obama’s closing statement is simplistic and focused on economic issues that he has already lost on. Plus, he devoted a large portion of it to simply attacking Romney. Not very presidential. His promise that he will always listen to our voices was weak — he didn’t listen to our voices on ObamaCare. He ignored the public’s disapproval which has been essentially constant.

10:28 p.m. Romney “I don’t want to go back to the the last four years.” Romney’s explanation of the weak job’s production, the unemployed, the falling incomes, etc. was powerful. But we won’t fix this economy by hiring more teachers. But we have to get our private sector growing and I know how to do it. Ouch, Romney kicked Obama really badly on that exchange.

10:27 p.m.  Obama is arguing about cutting spending on education and

10:25 p.m  Obama again opened the door for Romney to walk through — this time on the issue of a Detroit bankruptcy. Romney explains his position again and trumps Obama on the facts. And Obama’s attempt to interrupt him constantly doesn’t make him look presidential.

10:23 p.m.  Rather than explaining his agenda, Obama seems more interested in attacking Romney than outlining his agenda. He doesn’t look presidential and he doesn’t look knowledgeable.

10:19 p.m.  Romney’s answer to the greatest threat question was much more coherent and sounded more presidential. He clearly said it was a nuclear Iran. Somehow Obama missed that one.

10:15 p.m.  Greatest threat question seemed to confuse Obama. He talked aimlessly about China. He drifted into trade wars and making investments in American schools. Very weird.

10:10 p.m.  Each time Obama tries to talk about strengthening America he keeps bringing up the same things he did in his first time — he wants another stimulus — which didn’t worked and which bloated the deficit. This is a losing approach. America doesn’t believe that was a successful approach.

10:07 p.m.  Obama needs a big victory, but he is not close to that. Romney needs a respectable draw and Romney is winning so far. The best line of the night so far is Romney’s “America has not dictated to other nations [as Obama said on his apology tour]. America has freed other nations from dictators.” Great line and great truth underlying it.

10:03 p.m.  Obama continues his yarn about how only he would have ordered the operation to get bin Laden. That is a silly argument and only utterable by a complete narcissist.

10:00 p.m.  Iran had 1000 kg low enriched uranium (LEU) in January 2009.  Today it has 6876 kg. That is enough for 5 nuclear bombs if enriched further. In January 2009, Iran had no 20 percent high enriched uranium (HEU). Today, Iran has 190 kg.  And to put that into perspective, having 20 percent HEU is roughly 80 percent of the way to to weapons-grade uranium.

9:58 p.m.  Obama began his presidency with what sounded like an apology tour in which he leveled criticisms at America and its role in the world while he traveled abroad. While many liberal “fact-checkers” balk at the idea that Obama apologized for America while speaking abroad, they base their claim on the fact that he never uttered the word “apology.” This analysis is shallow and quite frankly dishonest. It is revealing that the European press called Obama’s speech an apology. The Telegraph, a leading British newspaper wrote: “President Barack Obama has offered an apology for the Bush era, declaring that America had “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” towards its allies…. His speech in Strasbourg went further than any United States president in history in criticizing his own country’s action while standing on foreign soil.” (emphasis added)  Obama gave similar speeches in Cairo, Turkey, and Trinidad and Tobago, to name only a few. Interestingly, Obama’s critiques of America were designed to set himself up as morally superior, more prescient, and more insightful. Four years of economic and foreign policy failures brings into question the accuracy of his self portrait.

9:55  p.m. Obama is not correct about his apology tour being a huge “whopper.” He fails the fact checkers on that — even though he cited the fact checkers. Obama is dead wrong on this one. The European press used the word “apology” to describe his foreign speeches.

9:53 p.m.  Romney said he would increase diplomatic pressure on Iran and threat their leaders like pariahs and even indict them for their war crimes. Romney’s case against Obama’s projection of weakness is strong and well stated. “It is essential for a president to show strength.” Romney looks stronger.

9:46 p.m.  Obama may be crippling the Iranian economy, but the leadership doesn’t care. They want the bomb. And if their people suffer while they acquire it, so be it. The Iranian leadership doesn’t care about the populace’s suffering. But once they have the bomb, the sanctions will end and the Middle East will be in further and greater turmoil. Obama is incorrect on his claims about military spending. He has actually cut military spending and he certainly has not increased the military budget every year he’s been office. Obama cut military spending in real terms by 3 percent in Fiscal Year 2011 and almost 8 percent in Fiscal Year 2012. In Fiscal Year 2013, Obama initiated a $487 billion cut over the next 10 years. And he’s refusing not to stop the $500 billion sequestration cuts unless there are tax hikes.

9:43 p.m.  Obama wasn’t accurate on the sequester question which was in fact something he was supportive of and wanted. He acted like the Congress did that and imposed it on him. That is simply not true. He will fail the fact check on that one. The sarcastic response about how we no longer use horses or bayonets and have these underwater boats called submarines looked sophomoric and silly. Moreover, we actually do use horses and bayonets even today.

9:40 p.m.  Romney is looking like a leader and looking knowledgeable. He talks about balancing budgets in business, in the Olympics, in government. Size of Navy talk is strong. He is looking presidential.

9:39 p.m.  Obama opened the door to let Romney talk about education and how they turned schools around in Massachusetts. Romney walked through this door again and is kicking Obama around on education.

9:37 p.m.  Obama’s big plan is hiring more teachers?  That’s going to get Americans back to work now? That might pay dividends in a generation, but for the next months and years, he has no plan. None at all.

9:35 p.m.  Romney is walking through the door that Obama opened for him — jobs, balanced budgets, lower taxes, energy development, championing small businesses, etc. Strong answer. Beating Obama’s brains out with an economic plan.

9:33 p.m.  Obama’s discussion of tax increases and green jobs and how well he’s done on the economy is a losing answer. Leaves himself open to getting slammed.

9:30 p.m.  Romney is right to bring up the need for American to remain strong, not only militarily but also economically. He need good jobs and cannot continue with 23 million Americans needing work. He pointed out that Iran’s Ahmadinejad said that American can’t be a world power if it continues to fall into debt. He hit the economy well and debt well. Very strong answer.

9:26 p.m.  Romney’s statement that the events and turmoil in the Middle East should have been ”a time for American leadership.” Romney sounded preceptive in making that point. Romney sounds better informed about what is happening than the president does.

9:22 p.m.  Obama shouldn’t have mentioned the rights of women given the tragedy in Pakistan. It gives Romney the chance to talk about a real war on women in the Middle East, not the faux war on women that Obama has been talking about.

9:19 p.m.  Obama says he has learned you have to be clear about where you stand and what you mean. But there is little evidence he has really learned that.  He continued, for example, to blame an Internet video that few people saw for the 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for weeks. He gave mixed messages in a time of crisis and showed no leadership. Obama says that  he’s confident that Assad’s days are numbered. But he and his administration has been saying that for well more than a year.

9:15 p.m.  Romney said attacking me is not a coherent policy.  Romney said he would never say  to Russian President Putin as Obama did that he will have more flexibility after the election. That was an important point. Obama statement about flexibility was shameful and almost all by itself disqualifies him from being the President of the United States.

9:13 p.m.  Obama accuses Romney of being all over the map and tried to be cute with a line about getting the 1980s foreign policy back. It fell flat.

9:10 p.m.  Romney brings up the tremendous upheaval in the Middle East.

9:07 p.m.  Obama gave the answer you’d expect — I’ve kept America safe. I got bin Laden. I did a great job in Libya.

9:05 p.m.  First question — Benghazi, Libya. Romney starts off with a measured tone expressing disappointing in the results in the Middle East — a reversal of the progress we had been seeing before Obama’s projection of weakness.  Romney avoids going after Benghazi scandal. Not sure why.

9:01 p.m.  Bob Schieffer is introducing the debate and Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney.

9:00 p.m.  Romney doesn’t need a big win or to even change the direction of the campaign. He simply needs to present himself as a credible alternative to President Obama. If Romney does that, more Americans will be willing to vote for him and against Obama because many Americans still want the change that was promised them four years ago, but which Obama has clearly failed to deliver.

8:58 p.m.  President Barack Obama is trailing Gov. Mitt Romney in the national polls and the momentum is going Romney’s way. Tonight’s third and final debate is Obama’s last chance to change the trajectory of this election. Obama needs a decisive win — the sort of win that Romney achieved in the first presidential debate.

8:55 p.m.  Its the last presidential debate in just a few minutes on foreign policy and national security.  Live from Boca Raton, Florida.

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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.


  1. Thank you, Fred and Heather! I am expecting Romney to continue to build momentum and add to his lead.

  2. Fred Daynes says:

    Great comments George. I thought it also interesting that the buzz line, phrase from the liberal press, actually puts Romney in the lead as the real winner. Govenor Romney by not having to be on the defensive, gave him the advantage, becuase all he had to do was maintain his present course. In their words “the wind is at his back” Refering to Mitt, suggest that Romney is the leader in this.

  3. Heather Zwicker says:

    George, Totally agree with your assessment. I thought it was interesting that every time a question was asked on foreign policy, Obama steered back to domestic policy in his answer. This reiterated the fact that his knowledge of foreign policy is limited. Additionally, Romney was calm and rock-solid. Obama was, as you said, snarky and condescending. Romney was on the offensive, the president was on the defensive.