John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Next Debate

Posted on October 17, 2012

The tie-breaker is in Florida, moderated by Bob Schieffer, and it will be focused on foreign policy.

Obama got blown out in the first one, narrowly edged out Romney in game two, and now it all comes down to this.

Four years is a lot of on-the-job training when it comes to foreign policy.

Clearly, Barack Obama was not ready for the job when he came into office.  He had two short years in the Senate, a few more short years as a State Senator, and an untold number of years as an international vagabond (ok, that might be a little strong).

Mitt Romney’s biggest international accomplishment was to bring some order to the International Olympic Committee as it tried to put on the Salt Lake City Olympic games.  Romney had a chance to witness first hand the endemic corruption that makes the IOC so fun to observe from the outside.    That he succeeded with his reputation intact says much about his character.

Stylistically, here are three pieces of  advice for Mr. Romney.

  1. First, don’t try to clarify the debate rules with Schieffer mid-debate.    Every time you do that, you look like a whiner.

  2. Second, talk longer.    Don’t worry about the rules.  Obama has beat you in the time department in both debates.  In the first debate, it didn’t matter because the President was so off his game.  It mattered in the second debate.

  3. Third, don’t ask the President a question and give him time to answer it.  That might have been the worst moment in round two.  Once you give Mr. Obama the floor, it awfully hard to get it back.

Substantively, here are some other thoughts.

  1. Praise Hillary Clinton.  She is doing a good job as Secretary of State.    Her job is made tougher by the fecklessness of the guy at the top.  Imagine how frustrating it must be for her when her boss won’t meet with anybody at the United Nations because he is too busy doing “The View.”

  2. Second, don’t sound like a war-monger.  The American people are tired of war.  Don’t make it seem that if you are elected, we will immediately start bombing Iran.   This will not be popular with swing voters.

  3. Third, link Obama with Bush as much as possible.  The President’s policies are basically the same as his predecessor’s policies.  Don’t let him brush you with the Bush brush when there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference on several of the big policy issues.

  4. Fourth, explain carefully, with solid examples, why you think Russia is such a threat.  How they undermine us in Syria.  How Putin doesn’t care about the rule of law.  How they steal our intellectual property.  How they intimidate Europe.  How they bully our neighbors.  Be ready for that question, because most Americans think Russia is a spent force.

  5. Explain in three message points why your get-tough policy on China makes sense and why the President has failed to be tough enough there.    Be ready for the Hunstman criticism (which you know Bob Schieffer will throw in your face).

  6. Explain why our debt makes us more vulnerable to our enemies.   The obvious example, of course, is China.  But more debt makes it harder to invest in our troops.  It is hard to have peace through strength if you can afford to be strong.

  7. Seventh, don’t talk about trade or free trade.  Talk about exports.  We need to export our products to other countries because that creates jobs here in America.  You will be the pro-export President.

  8. You are in Florida, which probably has more immigrants from South and Central America than any other state.  Take the time to learn what the Dominicans care about, what the Haitians care about, what the Ecuadorans care about, what the Brazilians care about, what the Nicaraguans care about, what Colombians care about, what is happening in El Salvdor, what is happening in Argentina and Costa Rica, in Venezuela, in Bolivia. It might seem silly, but all of these countries matter to key voting blocks in the Sunshine State.  Simply saying we need to do more trade with Latin America won’t cut it.  Show that you understand their concerns, which can be quite different.

  9. Ninth, improve your immigration answer.   The immigration system in this country is broken, and President Obama has done nothing to fix it.   I will fix it in a way that is compassionate, fair and smart.  I will not ignore it like the President did.    I know people come to America because they can’t achieve their dreams back home.  My policies will not only help American workers by increasing exports and creating jobs here, but also by improving living conditions and increasing opportunities for our friends in Central and South America.

The President will be the favorite going into this last debate, because his job is to do this foreign affairs bit every day.  But Mr. Obama isn’t particularly good at it, and that should give Mitt Romney some opportunities to score some points.

Subscribe to the Feehery Theory Newsletter, exclusively on Substack.
Learn More