Obama lost. His tone was petty and small. Arguing about Iran’s nuclear program, he actually said to Mitt Romney, “While we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure these sanctions were effective, you were still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector.” You can’t get smaller than that. You’d expect this in a city council race. But only from the challenger. The sitting councilman would find such an ad hominem beneath him.

Throughout the debate, Obama kept it up, slashing, interjecting, interrupting, desperate to gain the upper hand by insult if necessary. That spirit led Obama into a major unforced error. When Romney made a perfectly reasonable case to rebuild a shrinking Navy, Obama condescended: “You mentioned . . . that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.” …

Obama, rattled, went off into a fog, beginning with “if we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken,” followed by a rambling travelogue of a 2008 visit to Israel. As if this is about trip-taking, rather than about defending — vs. denigrating — the honor of the United States while on foreign soil. Americans may care little about Syria and nothing about Mali. But they don’t like presidents going abroad confirming the calumnies of tin-pot dictators.