During last night’s foreign policy debate, the Mitt Romney of the Republican primaries disappeared. Romney’s April criticism of Obama’s decision to commit the United States military to helping oust Muammar Qaddafi in Libya disappeared. Missing was a promise on his website to reduce foreign aid by $100 million. Romney’s past criticism of what he called Obama’s rushed exit from Afghanistan vanished as well.
Given his lurch to the center on domestic policy, that comes as no surprise. But it does not make Romney’s record – or his willingness to change positions – a nonissue. If Romney wins this election, it will be arguably the latest and greatest shift to the center in presidential campaign history.
Last night the new Romney praised Obama’s toppling of Qaddafi, said he supported the president’s policy in Afghanistan and agreed that the administration’s economic sanctions on Iran were “crippling.”
After the debate instant polls, most pundits and even a dozen undecided voters on Fox News said Obama had won on substance. But there was a chorus of commentary arguing that Romney’s flat performance was smart politics.
An analyst on CNN pointed out that Romney’s call for a larger Navy would play well in Virginia, home to the country’s largest naval base. The chairman of the Republican National Committee said each minute Romney appeared on national television and did not appear to be a heartless corporate mogul was a victory. Other Romney supporters said Romney had succeeded at not looking like a “warmonger” or “another George W. Bush,” a performance that might appeal to female voters.