Mitt Romney made a calculated decision in this third debate to soft-pedal his disagreements with Obama, and not to criticize Obama on key foreign policy issues such as Libya.
His calculus was that he’s already won the election; and therefore, the best thing he can do is to appear reasonable, non-threatening, and to play for a tie.
Romney may be right. In fact, after the first debate, I was the first commentator to say that “Mitt Romney just got himself elected president” (by which I meant: the dynamics of the race had been fundamentally, and perhaps irrevocably, altered). But there are two big problems with Romney’s refusal to press his advantage:
First, it is far from clear that Romney has won this election. In truth, the race is a statistical tie, which could go either way depending on unforeseeable events and developments.
Romney’s first debate performance shook up the race and gave him much-needed momentum. Yet, by refusing to attack Obama where he (Obama) is most vulnerable (i.e., Libya), Romney has denied himself the opportunity to build upon that initial success.
Second, presidential debates play a key civic and educational role in American democracy. Yet, by not showing up and not fighting, Romney is cheating American democracy and our civic culture. He is denying the American people the opportunity to learn and to become better informed citizens.
Moreover, should he be elected president, Romney will have a more difficult time securing congressional and popular support for bold foreign policy initiatives (such as intervening in Libya), which he purposely skirted and evaded during the debates.
I hope Mitt Romney is elected president. But I also want Mitt Romney to be a successful president. And success is dependent, in large part, on being candid and forthright with the American people — so that their support is forthcoming when it needed most: on difficult but challenging issues of U.S. foreign policy.
And on that score, I’m afraid, Mitt Romney tonight fell disappointingly short of what his supporters should expect of him.