Debating for the swing voters
Here's David Gergen with your debate preview:
For President Obama, this is a major opportunity to hone in on the group that may be most important to his election: women. As pointed out by Ron Brownstein, one of the nation's best students of the interplay of politics and demography, Obama can win the election if he wins over more college-educated women in the Southeast and more non-college educated women in the upper Midwest. He has already made strong inroads with both, but needs a little more heft.
Obama's best way to do that is to convince women that he will not only protect our security but he will keep us out of war. He has argued in the past that he is doing just that by getting bin Laden and by extracting the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.
He can advance his case by arguing that tough sanctions have led the United States and its allies to edge much closer to talks with Iran, which could defuse the possibility of an armed conflict. Presumably, the story leaked by the administration to The New York Times over the weekend about new talks with Iran was intended to set up exactly that conversation.
The Obama people also realize that they are presenting Romney with a tricky choice: either he can agree with Obama that more talks with Iran would be wise before any bombs fall, or he can take a harder line on Iran. The first choice risks Romney saying "me-too," but the second might make him seem just too bellicose -- George W. Bush revisited. Either way, he has to avoid that trap. Similar tough questions surround other issues, especially the growing dispute over whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria, a civil war spilling over into Turkey and Lebanon.
For Romney, a key imperative Monday night is to find a way to drum in his central message: He will be better than Obama in creating jobs, taming the deficits, and growing the economy.
On the surface, a foreign policy debate doesn't lend itself to that message. But a clever candidate could find a way to argue that the biggest threat to America's national security is economic weakness and demoralization at home. Military leaders stretching back to Eisenhower have successfully argued that peace comes through strength -- both in arms and in the economy.
It has been clear for some time that Obama and Romney are running increasingly different campaigns. Obama is tailoring messages and actions to groups that make up his coalition: women, minorities and youth.
Romney, on the other hand, is trying to win through a single message aimed at all: I can turn this economy around.
That sounds like a good analysis of what they plan to do tonight. Feel the magic.
What's clear is that this debate has nothing to do with national security or foreign policy. But then campaigns are never very illuminating about national security or foreign policy in general.
From my point of view, regardless of what they say, on national security President Obama will probably expand his covert wars and Romney (who really is quite a dud when it comes to this) will listen to his lunatic advisers who will make some huge error as these sorts usually do.
I would guess we'll have some saber rattling and China bashing, but for the most part any sophisticated discussion about the global economy is considered above our pretty little heads, so I won't hold my breath. And there's been ample discussion of the lack in interest in climate change.
If I could ask a question it would be about the recent revelations that the DEA is operating in Africa, ostensibly because "narco-terrorism" is threatening Europe. I have to wonder if Americans agree that's such an important national priority that their grandmothers must eat cat food (skin in the game!) so that the Europeans pay a little bit more for their cocaine and hash.
Let the games begin.
Update: Oh, and for the inevitable Benghazi bullshit, here's a useful primer on the issue from people who aren't trying to confuse things.