Monday, October 22, 2012

Debate #3 Primer

Our candidates will want to project a talent for strategic thinking at tonight's debate.

Tonight is the third and final Presidential Debate.  The topics are intended to cover Foreign Affairs.  This topic occasionally leads to fairly obtuse questions for the candidates.  We thought it might be helpful to provide a scorecard for those of you who will be ‘keeping score at home.’  So here are some of our tips on what to look for in tonight’s Debate.
Benghazi.  This is the hot topic, and I would not be surprised if the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, leads off with this.  For those who are not following along, here is a brief summary of the issue.  On September 11, the U.S. Ambassador (Chris Stevens) and three other Americans were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  Governor Romney took some criticism for issuing a press release during the attacks.  In the release, the Romney campaign took issue with a release from the State Department which referenced a YouTube video which is a trailer of a movie critical of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.  Representatives of the Administration criticized and for roughly two weeks attributed the attacks which resulted in the deaths of Stevens and the other three Americans to rage over this video.  Recent information suggests that intelligence on the ground knew the attacks had no relationship to rage over the video, but were likely a coordinated attack by an affiliate of Al Queda.  So expect questions of 1) Obama about why his Administration either misled the American public or didn’t know the reason for the killings, and 2) Romney, as to whether his campaign’s press release demonstrated appropriate leadership.  Also, expect questions of Obama about why the State Department didn’t respond to Ambassador Stevens’ repeated requests for beefed-up security at the U.S. Consulate prior to the 9-11 attacks.
Iran.  This will be another hot area of discussion.  Romney’s campaign is critical of seeming indifference or inability to halt the steady progress of Iran towards the development of nuclear weapons.  For his part, Obama will claim his Administration has crippled Iran with sanctions, and has the global community on the same page about preventing Iran from securing nuclear capability something he will claim Bush was unable to do.  (Underlying this question is the rumor of a possible “October Surprise” Deal with the Iranians about halting/slowing nuclear development in exchange for lightening of sanctions.) 
Israel.  Romney will claim Obama is not a strong ally of Israel, and he has the relationship with Netanyahu and concern about the Israeli people to secure their existence.  Obama will claim he is the best friend the Israelis have ever had in the White House.
China.  Romney has made China’s alleged manipulation of its currency as a dominant theme in his campaign.  Expect Romney to hit this hard.  He will state he will declare China a currency manipulator ‘on the first day of my Administration.’  Obama will claim his Administration has been tough on China, and Romney talks tough but would not have penalized the Chinese tire industry like he did.
European Union.  The past summer has seen hints (if not downright threats) of the dissolution of the European Union.  Schieffer will likely weave into his questions the stability of the EU, and the effect its possible dissolution would have on the Global Community.
Syria.  Romney has talked tough on Syria, claiming that Obama has not sufficiently supported the Syrian rebels in their battles against the existing government.  Obama will play the statesman here, counseling patience and the virtue of isolation of the Syrian government without putting American ‘boots on the ground.’ 
Russia.  Obama has wooed the Russian government since his first day in office, famously offering a ‘reset’ of American-Russian relations and whispering off-mike (but not off-mike enough) to the Russian President that he can be more ‘flexible’ in nuclear disarmament after he is reelected.  Romney will attack Obama as a quisling on Russia, whom he views as a threat to global security and whom he believes is interested in resurrecting the Soviet empire, albeit under a different banner.
Defense Spending and the Role of the U.S. in the Geopolitical world.  Romney will likely come out swinging on planned cuts to the Defense budget.  He will claim that Obama is projecting weakness on the world stage, and apologizes for the global positioning of the U.S.  Obama will claim that Romney wants to institute programs the Defense Department doesn’t even want, and will imply that Romney has a Cold War mentality where everyone is a potential enemy.
We can also expect questions about Afghanistan (the wisdom of setting a withdrawal date), and a wild card could be the issue of Communist/Socialist influence in the Western Hemisphere.
General Demeanor.  This is Obama’s last chance to make up ground lost from the first Debate in Denver.  Polling suggests Obama and Romney roughly broke even in their Town Hall Debate last week.  The nature of the topic of the Debate makes it ill-advised for either candidate to come across too aggressively.  First, the public is generally not as knowledgeable on these topics (see this video of students from Ohio University at a recent Obama rally responding to questions about Benghazi).    Second, the public wants a steady hand at the helm of our foreign relationships.  It is especially important to ‘look Presidential’ in a Debate about Foreign Affairs.  Romney would be well-served to continue his air of competence and knowledge.  (hint to Rob Portman: tell your guy to slow down, and use the cadence he demonstrated in his speech at the Al Smith dinner.)  He should not overplay his hand on what appears to be an Achilles Heel for Obama on Benghazi.  However, he should carefully outline the facts, which we can be sure Obama will want to conceal and mislead.  For his part, Obama will want to project an air of authority on these matters, and emphasize what he considers his ability to heal strained relationships with allies and enemies from the Bush Years.
As fate would have it, the public will have two other options with the Cardinals-Giants NLCS going to a Game 7, and the Monday Night football game features traditional and popular rivals, the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions.  These alternatives, along with the nature of the Debate topic, may limit viewership. 
Get your popcorn ready.  It should be a good one.  And if you'd like to do more than watch, download our scorecard from this link.

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