Foreign Policy Debate Preview

Tonight we are treated to the final presidential debate of this cycle. This time the subject is foreign policy and it’s format mirrors the format of the first presidential debate with six 15-minute segments each devoted to an overarching question.

The difference between this debate and the first is that this debate is that Jim Lehrer is nowhere to be found. Actually…I guess he was also nowhere to be found in the first debate, but the point is that Jim Lehrer’s physical body will not be even be in the room this time. Instead Bob Schieffer of CBS News will moderate.

I’ve already written an open letter to Schieffer outlining my hopes and aspirations for his performance tonight. Hopefully he’s read it.

So far he’s off to a good start (though the Commission may be more involved in this decision), providing the campaigns with a more detailed preview of the topics to be discussed, allowing the candidates to engage in more focused study. Yes, these are not fully “detailed,” but remember Jim Lehrer only provided the campaign useless statements like “there will be 3 questions about the economy.”

This is uniquely beneficial to President Obama. As a sitting president, every statement he makes has the potential to impact world events. With a specific understanding of the topics he will hear, Obama is given an opportunity to vet statements not just for their political value, but their international effect. Mitt Romney doesn’t have this constraint and will toss red meat for his base all over the stage, making statements that would probably get America bombed if he were speaking as a president.

And this introduces a new theme for Barack Obama entering this debate. Until now his primary goal has been eroding the trustworthiness of Mitt Romney to blunt Romney’s advertising claims and undermine his debate ethos by casting him as a flim-flam man and opportunist. President Obama can now add a new, related thematic element by stressing that Romney’s eagerness to say anything reflects a dangerous naïveté when it comes to foreign policy.

Just went after Obama on Libya? Y U Mad Bro? (Getty Images)

Governor Romney, on the other hand is going to talk up three points: First is Libya, which we’ve already seen. Romney is playing from behind on this point after his disastrous performance in last week’s debate, but walking away entirely when it represents a healthy portion of tonight’s debate would make a media talking point of Romney’s complete retreat on the issue. Better to go down fighting.

Second is Iran. The Vice Presidential debate demonstrated the problems for the Romney-Ryan ticket when it comes to Iran as they hype up the clear of present danger of the Iranian nuclear problem while meekly admitting that they advocate the exact same plan that Barack Obama is already pursuing. That makes it a pretty “non-unique” issue. Will Bob Schieffer perform his duty and call out Romney for lying about the daylight between the candidates or will he let Romney get away with a snowjob? The more I listen to Romney talk about Iran, the more it sounds like a reversal of the film Argo. In Argo the U.S. creates a fake story in to pull the wool over the eyes of the Iranians. Romney is creating a fake story about Iran to pull the wool over the eyes of American people.

The final key for Mitt Romney is China. This is the foreign policy topic with the most direct spillover to Romney’s supposed economic strong suit. The town hall debate saw a lot of clash on the question with neither side getting a definitive upper hand. If Mitt Romney can’t convincingly sell an alarmist story about the current China trade policy, he likely cedes the state of Ohio to Barack Obama who holds all the cards with the industrial heartland right now. And just try to create a realistic electoral map for Mitt Romney without Ohio — I dare you.

Once again I will be liveblogging with my colleagues over at Balloon-juice. Stop by and hang out at the liveblog.

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