As the debate progressed and we were introduced to Mitt the Dove on foreign policy, I felt so foolish that I hadn’t seen this coming. He did in the foreign policy debate exactly what he did in the first debate on domestic policy — move sharply and dramatically to the middle.
So whatever Obama said and stood for, we then heard that championed by Me Too Mitt.
He ran as far and as fast from his neo-con image and advisers as he could, trying to hurl himself into the arms of women voters. This election won’t turn on foreign policy, but it will turn on how big the gender gap is.
When Mitt said “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” and talked about dealing with the Muslim world through economic development, education, gender equality, and the rule of law, he wasn’t really telling us his strategy for the Muslim world, he was telling us his strategy for American women. If he doesn’t care about gender equality here, why would he care about it there?
Mitt didn’t need to win (and he didn’t), he just needed to keep his momentum going. Saying something glaringly stupid as Ford did on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe would have stopped that momentum cold and doomed him.
So the main goal tonight was to avoid a gaffe that made him seem unready to be commander in chief. He achieved that.
The next goal was to calm down women voters who might worry that he’s too hawkish. He achieved that.
His strategy told me that his campaign is feeling confident right now. Pretty, pretty confident, as Larry David would say. If they weren’t confident, he would have felt the need to be much more aggressive against the President, rather than amiably agreeing with him.
They know the election is still about the economy (where Mitt was aggressive), so why make waves on foreign policy when he had more to lose than to gain?
Behind that cautious playing-it-safe was a calculated playing-to-win.