- (Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
The final presidential debate takes place Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla. Here are seven predictions about what may happen in the foreign policy debate.
In one of the most memorable moments of the debate last Tuesday, Romney flubbed an opportunity to challenge Obama on lingering questions about the Sept. 11 attack on an American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Romney charged that Obama had not called the attack an "act of terror." Obama told him to "read the transcript," and the moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, backed up Obama. After the debate, though, Crowley said that Romney was "right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word." While Obama did use the phrase "acts of terror" in a speech the day after the attack, it was used in a general sense, not referring specifically to the raid.
With the Benghazi attack now front page news and a debate focused on foreign policy, expect Romney to be more prepared this time for the question.
Pivots to Domestic Issues
Thought the focus of the debate is foreign policy, voters rarely base their vote on foreign policy. Look for the candidates to "pivot" to domestic issues at every opportunity they can. On the European debt crisis, a candidate could turn to the U.S. debt (which could worsen). On China, a candidate could bring up abortion (because of China's one-child policy). And, on free trade, a candidate could end up talking about U.S. infrastructure (to help with the flow of goods).
Small Differences That Matter
"Politics stops at the water's edge," Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) famously said in 1945 when announcing that he would cooperate with the Truman administration on foreign policy matters.
The quote is often repeated to illustrate that the political parties are often less divided on foreign policy than domestic policy. While partisanship is at a zenith today, the adage remains true. Both Obama and Romney, for instance, believe in free trade, consider Israel an ally, and believe that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. There are some differences, though. Look for them to clarify some of those small, but important, differences.
Tough vs. War Monger
When comparing his foreign policy to Romney's, Obama has provided two seemingly contradictory messages with regard to Iran. On the one hand, he says that, like Romney, he too will be tough on Iran. On the other hand, he says that Romney is a war-monger. Look for Obama to continue to thread that needle in Monday night's debate.
Aggressive or Presidential?
Most believed the Romney was the decisive winner of the first debate while Obama had a lackluster performance. In the second debate, Romney appeared overly-aggressive while Obama's more measured style won the day.
With foreign policy as the focus, one key for Romney to win the debate may simply be appearing more presidential than the aggressive style of his second debate.
On "Fox News Sunday," Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, explained it this way: "[Romney] has to be less the challenger of the president, the prosecutor of the president's agenda, he has to be the next president of the United States. In a foreign policy debate, it's not like a domestic policy debate, voters don't have check lists. ... They want to see, especially for a challenger to an incumbent president, they want to see someone who is up to being president, with the judgment, the maturity, knowledge, toughness but ... soundness, to be president. ... I think if Romney can be presidential tomorrow night, I think he's in pretty good shape to win."
Will the Moderator be a "Lehrer" or a "Crowley"?
The moderators of the first two debates had different styles. In the first debate, PBS' Jim Lehrer avoided inserting himself into the debate. He asked open-ended questions and let the candidates go over the time limits with some back-and-forth debating. Crowley, on the other hand, was more adamant about keeping the candidates on time and, as mentioned above, inserted her own "fact checking" into the debate.
Veteran CBS journalist Bob Schieffer will moderate Monday's debate. Will his style be more like Lehrer or Crowley? Since Romney seemed to benefit from the Lehrer-style and Obama appeared to benefit from the Crowley-style, the answer could decide which candidate wins the debate.
Will Persuadable Voters Watch It?
Since the debate is on foreign policy, far down the list of issue concerns for most Americans, and will be at the same time as Monday Night Football, the viewing audience will likely be smaller than it was for the first two debates. Ironically, it may be the undecided voters, those who pay less attention to the race, who will be less likely to watch. This could mean that the post-debate coverage will be more important than usual for this debate.