If we can tell anything about the psyche of campaigns by the ads they publish immediately after debates, then we can conclude that both candidates have different takes on last night’s results than the conventional wisdom. Team Obama belatedly tossed out a second-term agenda, showing that they realize that their strategy to paint Mitt Romney as unpresidential has utterly flopped. Team Romney pulled this moment from the debate to sharpen Romney’s contrast on foreign policy, which got a little fuzzy last night:
T]he President began … an apology tour, of going to various nations … and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness. … [T]he reason I call it an apology tour … you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And … you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region …. You said that … America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
This is a pretty good ad, and it shows that Romney feels very comfortable at this stage playing offense, while Obama is now having to play defense — and catch-up, in terms of an agenda. The final line was the one that appeared most in my Twitter timeline (I was in class at the time of the debate), and may have been the best line Romney had on foreign policy.
However, this isn’t going to close the sale with undecided voters. Romney needs to focus like a laser on the economic argument that 62% of American voters want to hear: a major change in direction from Obamanomics, along with a short explanation of just how badly Obama has failed in three years of “recovery.” Always be closing, because second place in this race doesn’t even get you a set of steak knives.
And so we have Team Romney’s new closer, “The Clear Path,” taken from his valediction at the end of last night’s debate:
There are two very different paths the country can take. One is a path represented by the President, which, at the end of four years, would mean we’d have $20 trillion in debt, heading towards Greece. I’ll get us on track to a balanced budget. The President’s path will mean continuing declining in take-home pay. I want to make sure our take-home pay turns around and starts to grow. The President’s path means 20 million people out of work struggling for a good job. I’ll get people back to work with 12 million new jobs. I’m going to make sure that we get people off of food stamps not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs. America’s going to come back. And for that to happen, we’re going to have to have a president who can work across the aisle.
I’ll work with you. I’ll lead you in an open and honest way. And I ask for your vote. I’d like to be the next President of the United States to support and help this great nation, and to make sure that we all together maintain America as the hope of the earth.
This is the closing message that Romney needs to emphasize. The foreign-policy debate is over; this election is about jobs and the economy. Time to go for the Cadillac.
Update: Jennifer Rubin remarks on the myth of the myth of apologies:
President Obama is right that fact-checkers routinely declare it to be a “myth” that he has apologized for America. The fact-checkers are wrong, however. The variance from reality is so great on this one that you realize how potent is the information bubble in which the president and mainstream media reside. He is out with an new ad today citing a couple of these. Obama was caught flat-footed and didn’t attempt a response.
I am hardly the first to compile lists of apologetic utterances from Obama. These include an apology in front of the Turkish Parliament: “Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past. The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.” And don’t forget the apology to all of Europe, delivered in France:
From the Summit of the Americas he apologized to an entire hemisphere: “While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. … So I’m here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration. The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made.”
Rubin is right, but I still think the point is mainly irrelevant to undecided voters. If they took offense to this kind of rhetoric, they wouldn’t be undecided now.