BOCA RATON (CBSMiami) – President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney clashed one final time on the national stage Monday night at Lynn University in a debate that was supposed to focus on foreign policy but went off the rails at several points throughout the night.
The debate brought out the finest journalists in the world, but also attracted some odd choices for debate attendees, notably comedian Pauly Shore and even a group of puppeteers to Boca Raton.
Romney and President Obama discussed topics including Libya, Israel, the overall Middle East, Iranian sanctions, and even managed to work in domestic policy at times during the debate. The debate, held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, was the final of the three presidential debates between Romney and Obama.
Romney called into question Obama’s strength in the world, specifically dealing with Iran. He called repeatedly to indict Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and both candidates agreed that a nuclear Iran was not something the U.S. would stand for under either administration.
Romney targeted Obama’s foreign policy early, specifically targeting enemies, “But we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the – the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is – it’s certainly not on the run.”
Obama responded, “Governor Romney, I’m glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after Al Qaida, but I have to tell you that, you know, your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East.”
However, neither candidate truly answered the opening question regarding Libya. But Obama tried to deliver the first zinger of the debate, but it fell flat with an audience that wasn’t allowed to cheer for either candidate.
“I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaida; you said Russia, in the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama said.
Obama continued, “You’ve got to be clear, both to our allies and our enemies, about where you stand and what you mean.”
Governor Romney took what could be described as a more progressive position when it came to Syria, saying he doesn’t “want to have our military involved in Syria. I don’t think there is a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage. I don’t anticipate that in the future.”
Romney pivoted during a discussion on former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to talking about military spending and domestic issues.
“Our purpose is to make sure the world is more, is peaceful. We want a peaceful planet,” Romney said. “We want people to enjoy their lives and know they’re going to have a bright and prosperous future, not be at war. That’s our purpose…But for us to be able to promote those principles of peace requires us to be strong.”
“We need to have as well a strong military. Our military is second to none in the world. We’re blessed with terrific soldiers, and extraordinary technology and intelligence. But the idea of a trillion dollars in cuts through sequestration and budget cuts to the military would change that.”
Obama responded saying that “our alliances have never been stronger in Asia, in Europe, in Africa, with Israel, where we have unprecedented and intelligence cooperation, including dealing with the Iranian threat. But what we also have been able to do is position ourselves so we can start rebuilding America.”
CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, who hosted the debate, managed to get the debate back on to foreign policy when he asked Romney how he would pay for the candidate’s repeated calls for an expansion of the U.S. military without driving debts higher.
“I’d be happy to have you take a look. Come on our website. You look at how we get to a balanced budget within eight to 10 years,” Romney said.
However, on the relevant page for Romney’s website about government spending cuts, it doesn’t specify the cuts to balance the budget or to pay for the new military spending, according to the Washington Post.
Obama responded saying Romney has called for more than $5 trillion in tax cuts plus an additional $2 trillion increase in spending on the military. Romney then criticized Obama for the Navy being smaller than at any time since 1917, according to the Republican challenger.
Obama continued, “I think Governor Romney hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nation’s military’s changed…And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting slips. It’s what are our capabilities.”
The one biggest winner of the night may have been the social networking site Twitter. Between the more than 3,500 journalists in Boca Raton and the millions of members online during the debate, more than 5 million tweets were made at different points during the debate.
Within seconds of both candidates making their final remarks around 10:30 p.m. the representatives from both campaigns rapidly made their way to what is known as “spin alley” at Lynn University. It’s the post-debate area where both campaigns vow their candidate won the debate.
Also within minutes, the battling press releases came in fast and furious to e-mail boxes claiming victory.
Florida attorney general Pam Bondi said “Tonight’s debate highlighted President Obama’s weak foreign policy.” Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said, “We cannot afford four more years of President Obama’s foreign policy.
If you were scoring the debate, it would have likely gone to President Obama on points alone, but there was no game-changing moment in the debate.
As CBS4’s Antonio Mora said, “Prediction: debate made no difference – close on points – Obama stronger early (important) – Romney later (people snoring by then?)