What Happened at the Last Presidential Debate

Twenty-four debates ago, the nation began a democratic journey, a live-television experiment in primetime controlled chaos, filled with flubs, one-liners, crosstalk and body shots. Now it is all coming to an end.

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Rick Wilking / Reuters

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk during the final U.S. presidential debate, in Boca Raton, Fla., on Oct. 22, 2012

0 minutes. Twenty-four debates ago, on May 5, 2011, the nation began a democratic journey together, a live-television experiment in prime-time controlled chaos, filled with flubs, one-liners, cross talk and body shots. Remember Newt Gingrich’s mission to Mars? The $10,000 bet? Ron Paul? The teeth of Joe Biden? The sleepy President? Rick Perry’s third government department? Neither did he. Now it is all coming to an end, appropriately enough in Boca Raton, Fla. Bob Schieffer of CBS News welcomes the combatants and lays out the rules. The candidates meet onstage and shake hands. They say nostalgia is only for the past. They are wrong.

4 minutes. The first question is for Mitt Romney: Why did he say the Middle East was unraveling before our eyes after the attack in Libya? Romney opens with a joke. “Mr. President, it’s good to be with you again. We were together at a humorous event a little earlier, and it’s nice to maybe be funny not this time on purpose,” Romney says. “We’ll see what happens.” We will.

5 minutes. Romney describes all the ways of unraveling: Civil war in Syria. Attack in Libya. “Al-Qaeda-type individuals” taking over northern Mali. Iran four years closer to a nuclear weapon. “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” Romney says. Then he adds, “We must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism,” and his time is up.

(MORE: Mark Halperin: Grading the Battle in Boca)

6 minutes. Barack Obama counters by listing his successes. End of war in Iraq. Planned transition from Afghanistan. Refocused fight against al-Qaeda. Liberated Libya. He says he will go after those who killed Americans in Libya and that Romney is not good. “I have to tell you that your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe,” Obama says. He’s wrong. He doesn’t really have to do anything.

8 minutes. “Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to kill them, to take them out of the picture, but my strategy is broader than that,” says Romney, which is more like ugly straightforward. Then he says, “We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan,” even though he supported both invasions. Then he cites a study by a group of Arab scholars at the U.N. saying that more economic-development funds for more gender equality and education would prevent future conflict. If Romney had said any of this at one of his primary debates, he would have been booed from the hall. He closes by saying there is a “rising tide of chaos” and “tumult” in the Middle East.

10 minutes. Obama counters by saying that Romney keeps changing his positions and thinks Russia is the world’s No. 1 threat. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” Obama says, a bit cute with his zinger. But the President presses on: “When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.” He finishes by saying the Middle East needs “strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership.”

12 minutes. Romney clarifies by saying Russia is the No. 1 geopolitical foe but Iran is the No. 1 “national-security threat.” Then he pulls out his own verbal dart, in reference to Obama’s hot-mike moment with a Russian leader at a recent international summit. “I’m certainly not going to say to him, ‘I’ll give you more flexibility after the election,’ ” zings Romney. “After the election he’ll get more backbone.”

14 minutes. No longer content to just repeat rehearsed talking points, the two men start talking over each other. The topic is the troubled Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq, but it’s hard to follow. Romney seems right on the substance, but Obama more definitively says, “That’s not true,” so he probably wins on style.

15 minutes. Finally Schieffer asserts some order and asks a question about what the U.S. should do in Syria. Obama explains his position. Then Romney explains his position. They are the same position. Though Romney, who cited the U.N. a few minutes ago, suggests he would not have relied as much as Obama on the U.N.

21 minutes. Schieffer follows up. “Governor, can I just ask you, would you go beyond what the Administration would do?” Romney cites no policy differences but says he would lead in a more leaderly fashion. “This should have been a time for American leadership,” he says.

23 minutes. “What you just heard Governor Romney say is he doesn’t have different ideas,” says Obama. Romney does not try to respond.

24 minutes. Next question is on Egypt. Does Obama regret telling President Hosni Mubarak to go? “No,” says the President, and then he goes on to define the lines he has established with the new Egyptian government: Abide by treaty with Israel. Democratic elections. Protect religious minorities and women’s rights.

26 minutes. Once again, Romney says he agrees. Then he launches a campfire riff. “We want a peaceful planet. We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they’re going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war,” he says. “That’s our purpose.” Romney follows this by saying Obama is failing in four dimensions. “Nowhere in the world is America’s influence greater today than it was four years ago,” he says.

29 minutes. The moderator sets a softball on the tee. What is America’s role in the world? Romney says, “America must lead,” and then changes topics to talk about the 23 million Americans struggling to get a job. He also attacks Obama for being silent during the Green Revolution in Iran. Obama was not silent. But he chose his words carefully.

(MORE: Obama, Romney Spar on Mideast Policy in Final Presidential Debate)

31 minutes. “America remains the one indispensable nation,” says Obama, though there are plenty of people around the world who would disagree. Then Obama launches into his own domestic-jobs riff, followed by another prepackaged zinger for Romney. “He’s praised George Bush as a good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment,” says Obama.

33 minutes. Here begins a long period of interrupting so the candidates can pummel each other with their stump speeches. Romney’s face is becoming shiny, as if the makeup artist did not do enough. And two strands of his hair are out of place. At one point Obama claims that Romney’s four-year tuition-free plan for high-achieving Massachusetts college students “happened before” Romney became governor. Obama is wrong. “You got that fact wrong,” says Romney.

38 minutes. Schieffer asks Romney about his plan for big increases in military spending. “Where are you going to get the money?” he asks. Romney doesn’t have an answer. “Come on our website. You’ll look at how we get to a balanced budget within eight to 10 years,” he says. You can try it yourself.

40 minutes. Obama says the Romney math doesn’t work. Romney says he has a lot of experience meeting budgets. Then Romney says the Navy is smaller now, in terms of ship count, than anytime since 1917. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed,” says Obama. This is both heedlessly condescending and funny.

45 minutes. Schieffer asks if the candidates would consider an attack by Iran on Israel to be the same as an attack on the United States. “America will stand with Israel,” says Obama, who then lists all the ways Iran is a weaker state now than when he came into office. “If I’m President of the United States — when I’m President of the United States — we will stand with Israel,” says Romney, before saying he would have put the sanctions in place earlier and would indict Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under the U.N. Genocide Convention for “genocide incitation.”

50 minutes. Obama says a recent New York Times report that direct talks were in the works with Iran is “not true.”

(MORE: Debate Finale: Romney Agrees with Obama, Says Give Peace a Chance)

52 minutes. Romney says again that America needs more strength in foreign policy and says Obama apologized for America. It is his best answer of the night, since he fluently rattles off all his stylistic criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy approach. He also says Obama went on an apology tour, a claim independent fact-checkers all rule false.

54 minutes. Citing the fact-checkers, Obama calls the apology thing a “whopper.” Then he says Romney invested in a Chinese company that invested in Iran, which wins some opposition researcher at Obama HQ in Chicago a gold star.

56 minutes. Romney explains his apology-tour dig by saying Obama was wrong to admit overseas that America had made mistakes. “You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations,” Romney said. “Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.” The statement is full of patriotic vim but would not pass muster in high school history. America dictates to other nations all the time and has supported several dictators.

57 minutes. Obama delivers a prepared response about his affection for Israel.

58 minutes. Schieffer asks what the candidates would do if Israel called to say bombers were in the air on their way to Iran. Romney says he won’t answer hypotheticals and, besides, he as President would know before the bombers were in the air. Obama says Romney changes his positions on a whole bunch of stuff; he then tells the story of the daughter of a World Trade Center victim who found solace in the killing of Osama bin Laden.

63 minutes. Questions on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Romney says, “When I’m President, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014,” even though he has repeatedly said that setting deadlines for withdrawal gives an advantage to the enemy.

(MORE: Joe Klein: Obama Wins on Style and Substance)

66 minutes. Obama says that bringing troops home will “free up some resources to, for example, put Americans back to work, especially our veterans, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools.” By “free up some resources” he means “put America further into debt to fund other projects.”

71 minutes. On drones, Romney once again supports the Obama efforts.

74 minutes. Question on China and trade sanctions. Obama says, “I have to say that Governor Romney criticized me for being too tough in that tire case, said this wouldn’t be good for American workers and that it would be protectionist.” Once again, he doesn’t have to say that.

79 minutes. Romney says again that he thinks China will blink and not start a trade war if he declares China a “currency manipulator” when he comes into office. Then he tells a story. “I was with one company that makes valves in process industries,” he says. Turned out valves were being made counterfeit overseas, and that was not fair.

81 minutes. “Well, Governor Romney is right,” says Obama. But he doesn’t mean it. Instead, he launches an attack on Romney for being affiliated with companies that did work overseas and for opposing his auto bailout. “If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China,” he says.

83 minutes. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Romney responds. “I’m a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry.” This is followed by one of those exchanges in which the candidates disagree on the facts. The topic: Romney’s position on the auto bailout.

85 minutes. Obama says Romney did not say he would provide help to the American auto industry. Romney points out, accurately, that he would have provided federal guarantees for the industry after a bankruptcy process. The real difference between the candidates is not whether the government should step in but at what point the government should step in, and with how much money. Both candidates say voters should check the record. You can do that here.

89 minutes. After some more squabbling, it’s time for closing statements. Each candidate looks right into the camera and does a good job. Both of their statements hit all their points. But if a voter still isn’t decided at this point, with just two weeks to go before the election, it is not at all likely that these statements will make a difference.

93 minutes. Schieffer brings it all to an end with words of wisdom. “As I always do at the end of these debates,” he says, “I leave you with the words of my mom, who said, ‘Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.’ ” Amen.

INTERACTIVE: 2012 Electoral College Calculator Map

609 comments
AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

There is another danger that was not discussed in the debate. Obama has authorized joint military exercise with Egypt. Just days after a report that the U.S. was sharply cutting its participation in a military exercise scheduled with Israel, U.S. planes landed in Egypt for a joint exercise. Code-named “Eagle Arena 2012,” the exercise will include air and naval forays by US and Egyptian planes and boats, over the country, Sinai, and the Red Sea. According to Egyptian media reports, the purpose of the exercise is to enable Egyptian forces to practice both defensive and offensive tactics. By giving Muslim Brotherhood forces training in offensive tactics, Obama is training jihadists how to attack America and Israel in a future warfare. Egyptian president Morsi, is working to bolster Egyptian ties with the communist Chinese dictatorship while becoming increasingly despotic at home Morsi is cracking down on the press and his opponents, seizing vast powers for himself, has already shown signs of gravitating away from the West. Morsi attended a prayer meeting last week arranged by the Egyptian cleric Futouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour , and the Imam prayed: “Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. Oh Allah, demonstrate Your might and greatness upon them.” Although The Heritage Foundation has repeatedly warned that the Muslim Brotherhood is systematically clamping down on Egyptians’ political, social, and cultural freedoms., Obama has been craving for Morsi’s friendship. According to reports, Washington is set to forgive a billion dollars of Egyptian debt as part of its international assistance program for Egypt. The debt will be dumped in the laps of U.S. taxpayers. Egypt currently owes the U.S. some $3 billion.

ahandout
ahandout

 Does this explain the blame the video meme?  Obama sponsored an anti-blasphemy UN resolution in December 2011.

Now the Iranian Regime is threatening to sue Barack Obama using that same blasphemy law. Press TV reported:

A senior Iranian official says US President Barack Obama could face legal action in connection with the production of an anti-Islam movie by an American Jew.

 http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2012/09/iranian-regime-threatens-to-sue-obama-using-new-un-blasphemy-laws-he-signed/

AdreinneScott
AdreinneScott

The issue with the auto bail out is that the car corps could not get loans from the banks. The US gov is the only place they could go to get the loan. And no one in the US wanted to give them one at the time. not romney, not the poeple polled. Obama gave them one instead of letting the car corps crash into nothing. They had no way to get loans other than obama. Obama did save them.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

The Republican party is the American Taliban, but mostly nonviolent, with the exception of their fellow traveler right wing militias. They don't condone domestic violence, but they need the votes and will take them as they come.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

Throughout all of the debates, the Republican platform was not revealed because it is too sensitive.  The theocracy, the personal prejudices.  Or the common banter of Republicans, the racial, false,  petty tags of President Obama.  I don't think for a minute that Romney supports that, but he sure will take the vote.  Real decency would dictate that he address all of what his party and the followers are about.  He refers selectively to his time in Massachusetts, but what he did was sign progressive bills passed by Democrats.    

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

I cannot believe the press is NOT asking Romney how his positions suddenly changed on every FOREIGN policy issue. At least in MA, the press vigorously questioned his shift for brazen political expediency. I do not understand this meek and unethical press corp we have in this cycle!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Romney lost in part, in MA, because we did NOT know what he believed.  It was clear that electing him as a Senator could mean anything. We supported Kennedy even though he was very far left, because HE STOOD FOR SOMETHING. We knew what we were getting.

This liberal use of the word "PIVOT" to describe Romney's lack of character, is atrocious. Yes, presidential candidates are reputed to move to the center after the primaries, but in my research, I have not found ANY president that ABSOLUTELY repudiated his former positions as Romney has done.

READ THIS NOW FOLKS, ROMNEY STANDS FOR NOTHING, AND LIKE ANY OTHER PROSTITUTE, HE WILL DO ANYTHING. IN HIS TIGHT JEANS TODAY, HE CERTAINLY LOOKED THE PART OF A LYING ROGUE.

PS: Romney was sweating so much, during the debate under that massive TAN, that I thought he would faint. My guess is that he probably wet his undergarments in his apparent confusion and LACK of mastery of the issues. 

Romney seemed totally sick in his torrent of LIES. Romney makes a case for a dictatorship. People without character, corrupt rudderless politicians should not be allowed a chance at leading the free world. At least in a dictatorship, there is no chance that someone like Romney will ever come close to the corridors of power. This is a sad monument to the mediocrity of the so called political process. 

ahandout
ahandout

Romney was spot on.  The economy has everything to do with foreign relations.

The Obama era has coincided with major changes in international perceptions of American power – especially U.S. economic power. The global financial crisis and the steady rise of China have led many to declare China the world’s economic leader, and this trend is especially strong among some of America’s major European allies. Today, solid majorities in Germany (62%), Britain (58%), France (57%) and Spain (57%)name China as the world’s top economic power.

http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/06/13/global-opinion-of-obama-slips-international-policies-faulted/

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

No it doesn't you are reaching yet again Troll Jr.

ahandout
ahandout

@paulejb1 

 Obama wanted it known that he considers the video blasphemy against Mohammed. 

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@formerlyjames My sentiments exactly. Muslim hating, Ignorant, MISOGYNISTIC, fear mongering DOLTS. The Republican party is the party of the Obdurate extremists, and hate filled puritans also known as INSANE BIGOTS! Phew, I called someone that today, and I am happy to paint that party with the same brush.

ahandout
ahandout

@formerlyjames That's moronic, even for you.  We all know that Obama wants anti-blasphemy laws in the US.  That's why the first thing he did was to attack free speech after the Benghazi attack.

ahandout
ahandout

@paulejb1 Obama is losing his "likeability."  Why anyone would think that BO's extreme narcissism is a likable trait is beyond me.

paulejb1
paulejb1

@ahandout 

Bugs is convinced that the jihadists had no idea that the CIA was in Benghazi. He must believe that they are as low-information as the average Democrat voter.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@ahandout You can defend Romney all you want, but make no mistake about his record. HE IS WOEFULLY INEPT. And as we found out, despite the fact that Romney was provided a bunch of capital to start his "BANE of humanity" company, he was UNABLE to create jobs for us in MA. 

 When people complain about the lack of campaign time on Romney's calendar, guess what? We asked the same questions when he was governor. Who is this guy who does absolutely NOTHING. I do not know why he was always "resting." There is a reason he did not run for a second term. To us, he was governor of UTAH. He was never in MA, and WRECKED our state with his SEARING INEPTITUDE.

Maybe it is the heavy burden of LIES, and the LIVES he has destroyed by his BRAZEN pursuit of money and power at the expense of SO MANY INNOCENT AMERICANS, that exhausts Romney so much that when elected, he is  always tired, praying or resting.

The good news is that Romney inevitably TRIPS up. That is the way it works with power hungry entitled LIARS. The bad news is that he is running at all, and the press, including some on this site prefer to turn a COWARDLY eye to his lies. For fear that he gets elected, and targets them?? Who knows.

This is pathetic. I have never seen the media so hungry to overlook GLARING LIES and CHARACTER ISSUES in a PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout  And of course that had nothing to do with the global economic collapse caused by Republican policies.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Poor Troll. Such high hopes. And yet I personally will be watching Fox News come 11/7 to see the circular firing squad in action.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Obviously diplomacy much like common sense is lost on you.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout @paulejb1 Like a broken record you two trolls keep shouting the same thing over and over again hoping to find some one to believe your idiocy.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Yet more lies? At what point do you look in the mirror and feel shame for your actions?

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@ahandout @formerlyjames 

What?  Anti-blasphemy laws?  Attack free speech?  I am at a loss,  but not unusual with Republicans.  If cursing Republicans is blasphemy as defined by the right wing, I will go hide for fear of crucifixion.  

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@ahandout Romney is an inveterate liar and incompetent administrator who ran our state into the ground. He increased taxes, did not create new jobs, fiddled around with the deficit, and was out of the state for half of his tenure tending to his money.

The worst nightmare of any engaged citizen of our great commonwealth is a run by Romney for national office. We thought he was too damaged, unreliable and totally lacking in character to be seriously considered for national office.

In fairness to the Republicans, they had a horrible cast of clowns for the primaries, even then, Romney despite the sprinkling of gray hair he DYES around his temple (yes, he dyes it, it was the subject of mirth for us), and the so called presidential look, he is TOTALLY INCOMPETENT. Having Romney as a presidential candidate is like hiring a very rotund woman to sing the opera just because she is fat. Yes, many heavier women have great voices, but MANY MANY more cannot sing. Romney is the really FAT woman whose voice is so bad that in the past, it has almost killed people who have heard it.

Summation: Romney is a HORRIBLE prospect for the office of the president, and ahandout, you should be tested to determine your IQ. The stuff you spew here is beyond CALLOW. Your remarks are a reminder of the continuing  FAR RIGHT DOLTISH HYPER-PARTISAN bacchanalia.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Hopey Changey? Are you sure you are not Sarah Palin? She has certainly gotten enough handouts from idiots like you.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Yes and the Jihadists are very thankful to Issa for spelling out exactly which Libyans were aiding the CIA. Wonder how many of our native assets have already died due to his brain fart.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb1 @ahandout Both of you trolls are idiots. It is true that the CIA certainly works out of Embassies, however information released by that idiot Issa clearly reveals that only 10 out of the 35 people in Benghazi were State or USAID employees. The other 25 had no classification which means that you can bet they were CIA agents or contractors. When over 70% of the headcount at a facility is CIA affiliated it is considered a CIA facility and CIA has final jurisdiction. Any more questions?

outsider
outsider

its ok if you are a republican.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout poor Troll. Who cares if they sue. They can't enforce anything in the real world. It would be the same as me suing you for being a troll/

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

So what. They can sue whoever they want. Even if they win what happens then?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

How original. And yet you wonder why I call you Troll.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Poor Troll Jr. Wouldn't no a fact if it was hiding UBS documents next to you.