HKS Faculty Offer Perspectives on the Third and Final Presidential Debate

October 23, 2012
by Doug Gavel

The third and final presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL. contained several dramatic moments, as President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney articulated their views on foreign policy just two weeks before Election Day. David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership and director of the Center for Public Leadership (CPL), wrote in a commentary on CNN.com, "Coming off clear, back-to-back victories in the final two debates, President Obama has now shored up his campaign, and -- given what appears to be a superior ground game -- is again an odds-on favorite to win. But Mitt Romney has also accomplished a great deal in these debates and is poised for a possible surprise. Overall, I would put the chances at about 53% for Obama, 47% for Romney."

Nicholas Burns, The Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations and former U.S. Undersecretary of State, remarked on CNN that Romney seemed to soften or shift his stance on several important issues during the third debate.

“He’d been very critical of how President Obama ended the Iraq war and critical of the president’s plans to bring the troops out on a specific timeline, 2014, and you saw none of that last night. In fact, Governor Romney appeared to leave a lot of his positions behind, and it does leave you with the question -- what is his world view? What does he really believe?” Burns said. “So I think he is leaving the impression that he is not quite sure what he’d do or he’s not being as specific as he might be.”

Stephen Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying that Romney “endorsed most of the president’s policies, while trying to suggest that he’d implement them better.”

Juliette Kayyem, lecturer in public policy, who served in the Obama Administration as the Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote about the debate in The Boston Globe, “This was not Romney the tough guy, pounding his fist to protect America as he often did during the primaries…His ‘red line’ policy on Iran was tempered, as he focused on diplomacy and sanctions more than preemptive strikes. Romney even ruled out the possibility of military intervention in Syria, far more peacenik than Obama. In appealing to a less-violent foreign policy, Romney repeated twice that ‘we can’t kill our way out of this mess.’”

Elaine Kamarck, lecturer in public policy, who served in the Clinton Administration, wrote in the WBUR.org blog cognoscenti, that “In Monday night’s debate President Barack Obama reminded everyone that Bush and Cheney were the ones ‘who brought us this mess.’ Bush has the least favorable rating of any of the living presidents; only 43 percent of Americans have a positive view of his presidency….On Monday night Romney tried to untie one of the cement blocks around his neck by agreeing with President Obama and rejecting war. But the other blocks are dragging him down.”

Photograph of Professor Nicholas Burns

Nicholas Burns, The Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relation

David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership and director of the Center for Public Leadership (CPL), told a CNN audience that he felt the president "dominated the middle of the debate" and emerged as the winner.

Photograph of Elaine Kamarck

Elaine Kamarck, lecturer in public policy

 


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