Gov. Mitt Romney today pulled a bold move in the final debate with President Obama, opting for relatively limited verbal combat with his opponent while instead showcasing his knowledge of foreign affairs, adopting a presidential demeanor, and offering a sense of optimism for the future.
This strategy was the political equivalent of the Muhammed Ali Rope-a-Dope against George Foreman in the heavyweight boxing championship in 1974. Everyone expected a war, but Ali laid back on the ropes and let his bigger, stronger opponent pound away until Foreman was exhausted, and Ali knocked him out.
And I think Romney may have scored a knockout too.
Some commentators are suggesting Obama won because he scored more points. But I think such people are looking at this from within the paradigm of what they expected, and not what happened.
Everyone – including me – thought Romney would tear into Obama once again and engage in another slugfest, spending as much time as possible discussing the failures surrounding Benghazi. Instead, Romney completely walked away from Benghazi.
What Romney needed tonight was not to beat up on Obama – he had already proven he could do that – but to cast himself as a leader people will be comfortable having as their president.
He threw some jabs, but the knockout punch wasn’t delivered by fist, but by feint.
Romney stood tall while Obama appeared a little surly, eager to re-litigate domestic policy points that the two had already plowed through in two debates. By repeatedly demeaning Romney, Obama demeaned himself. The proverbial Martian visiting earth for the first time would have been convinced that Romney was the king the earthlings, not Obama.
The CNN post-debate snap poll gave Obama an edge, with 48 percent saying he won compared to 40 percent who thought Romney did. The poll as a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 point, a relatively large number.
But the impression that will linger through Election Day is that of the sunny guy to the left of the screen who seemed to have ideas about where to go and was interrupted repeatedly by the guy on the right who made lots of points but, in the end, had no new ideas, couldn’t defend his record the few times it was challenged, and seemed a little unlikable.