Here’s the good news for Mitt Romney: In the first two debates, he established himself as President Barack Obama’s equal on the events of the day. The governor is well versed on the issues and has shown a mastery of foreign and domestic policy.
Here’s the bad news: He has failed to pin down the president on his obvious policy shortcomings.
As someone who makes a nice living debating on television, I watch the president and the governor go after each other with a professional eye. And I can’t understand why Romney doesn’t close the deal. Three examples:
First, when Obama says his energy programs are helping the nation, all Romney has to do is keep it simple and ask: “Why then have gas prices more than doubled on your watch, Mr. President? That doesn’t sound like good policy to me.”
Second, the president continues to say he has created millions of jobs. But all Romney has to do is retort: “So what? The average income for working-class households in America is down almost $5,000, Mr. President. Workers are getting hosed, and your policies are at fault.”
Finally, number three, the Libya deal. This is crazy. There are just two vital questions, and Romney has not asked either one: Who pulled two American security teams out of Libya in August despite the concerns of slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens? Who ordered U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and White House spokesman Jay Carney to mislead the world about what happened?
If the president doesn’t know, he looks incompetent. If he does know and won’t say, he looks corrupt. If he does answer the questions, Romney wins just by asking.
The problem with many politicians when they debate is that they cram so much information into their heads in anticipation of spitting it out that they don’t actually listen to what their opponent is saying. In any debate, simple is best. State the facts clearly, and ask obvious questions about your opponent’s weaknesses.
Romney has a big advantage over Obama in the debates because Obama has to defend a record that contains some massive screw-ups. Nobody really cares about Romney’s record in Massachusetts, and he could easily pettifog any specific questioning of it.
But with the economy sluggish after almost four years, four dead Americans in Libya, and Iran still chugging along on the nuclear weapons highway, the president has a good deal of Ricky Ricardo “ ‘splainin’ ” to do. But the governor has not put him on the spot in a precise enough way.
Monday, Romney will have one final chance to pin the president against the rhetorical wall.
The foreign policy debate opens up Libya big time. If Romney wants to win, he’ll keep it simple and demand some answers.
• Veteran TV news anchor Bill O’Reilly is host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” and author of the book “Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama.”