We have now witnessed the penultimate phase of Mitt’s moderate makeover tour.
He pleaded nolo contendre in the final presidential debate—perhaps wisely because his comprehension of foreign policy evidences all the depth of a sound bite. Every time he’s touched Libya, for example, he’s been burned—and that night, even as he all but endorsed President Obama’s foreign policy, he occasionally strayed off script with stunning observations such as the claim that Syria is Iran’s opening to the seas. Mitt, ever heard of the Persian Gulf?
Previously he had pursued the exploitative path he had foreseen in a little-noted part of the notorious “47 percent tape.” After referring to Jimmy Carter’s failed hostage-rescue mission, in which eight U.S. service members died, he told the assembled plutocrats: “If something of that nature occurs, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.” I suspect his last round of debate prep included the warning that the president could clock him with that quote if he renewed his push on the Libyan issue, which had stunningly embarrassed him a week before when moderator Candy Crowley had told him he was wrong—that the day afterward, Obama had called the killing of the American ambassador a “terrorist act."
Something else, however, was operating here and in all three debates.
The Obama strategy of defining Romney over the summer as an out-of-touch, job-destroying financial manipulator—of, by, and for the rich—was so effective that the Republican nominee had to use the hours when the whole nation was watching to re-sculpt his image. He partially succeeded in that first encounter in Denver—partly because the president, for whatever reason, let his opponent prosecute a narrative brazenly at odds with his past record, in business and in the Republican primaries.
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