Obama vs. Romney Debate Scorecard: October 22, 2012

President Obama got crushed by Governor Romney in the first debate. He arguably won the second debate. And he decisively won tonight’s third and final debate.

The question is whether Mr. Obama’s two narrow debate victories were enough to compensate for the brutal blow in the first one. More on that at the end of this article.

The two men clearly came into tonight’s debate with different strategies. Mr. Romney, who has surged in the polls since the first debate, seemingly came in with two goals: to look like a plausible commander-in-chief, and to appear reasonable and rational in his approach to foreign policy. He accomplished both.

Mr. Obama’s goal was equally evident. Since he’s been sinking in both national and swing state polls, his goal was to go on the offensive and come across as a strong and decisive leader. He, too, achieved his goal.

Photo by Scott Audette of Reuters

There were a few moments that will likely be replayed numerous times on newscasts over the next few days. The first was President Obama’s line about “horses and bayonets.”

That wasn’t the only zinger Mr. Obama came prepared with tonight. Among others, he also said:

“I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”
“When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
“You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that shifted jobs overseas.”
“There have been times, Governor, frankly, where during the course of this campaign, it sounded like you thought that you’d do the same things we did but you’d say ‘em louder, and somehow that would make a difference.”

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Mr. Romney also got off some good lines, including one in which he countered President Obama’s contention that Romney’s foreign policy is straight out of the 1980s because he labeled Russia the number one international threat. Romney’s retort included a sly dig at something President Obama was caught saying on an open mic to Russian President Medvedev earlier this year (video of Obama gaffe: see #4).

But all in all, Mr. Romney’s plan tonight was not to execute a series of good lines. It was to appear thoughtful, sober, and serious—which he largely accomplished.

Mr. Romney also did a nice job tonight of moving the conversation away from foreign policy and back to the domestic economy. This may have been a foreign policy debate, but uncommitted voters in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Colorado are likely more interested in the economy. President Obama also discussed the economy, but Romney spent more time on it.

I always take note of the body language at the beginning of the debate versus the body language later in the debate. President Obama’s body language didn’t change—he appeared supremely confident and relaxed the entire time. Governor Romney’s, on the other hand, got tighter and more strained as the debate continued.

I believe Mr. Romney made a mistake by not responding to a few of Mr. Obama’s attacks, including the one about horses and bayonets and another about the difference between his and Mr. Romney’s trips to Israel (below).

By not responding, Romney allowed the attacks to sit unanswered–giving them additional credibility–since many viewers will conclude that Romney would have countered them if they weren’t true.


I believe that the Obama-Biden team won three of the four debates. But Governor Romney won the first one by the widest margin, and he surged in the polls as a result.

My final conclusion from debate season 2012 is this: The first debate mattered the most and made an indelible impression. Yes, I judged President Obama the winner of the final two debates, albeit by narrower margins. But Mr. Romney’s gains in the polls after the first debate aren’t likely to reverse back to pre-debate levels.

As a result, judged in the aggregate, the Romney-Ryan ticket benefitted more than the Obama-Biden ticket from the combination of all four debates.

Tonight’s Debate Grades: President Obama: A  Governor Romney: B

What do you think? Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.