Mitt Romney's campaign indicated Wednesday they have no plans to rein in the GOP nominee during the third and final presidential debate.
Romney's aggressive performance Tuesday night — directly challenging President Obama and quarreling with moderator Candy Crowley — had Democrats and even some Republicans arguing he came across as too assertive, which could turn off undecided voters.
But Team Romney claims their candidate won the night with his argument on core economic issues, which are the leading concern among voters. And Republican strategists say that Romney has more leeway to adopt the role of the antagonist because it's Obama who is so heavily reliant on personal favorability to buoy his poll numbers.
That last part doesn't make a lot of sense: apparently the argument is that people like Barack Obama, which is why it's OK to try to slap him around a bit. Voters will really get into that. People love it when you sink your fangs into someone they like.
But more telling than the obvious flaw in their reasoning is the fact that Romney feels the need to change the dynamic -- and with it, the race. People who are winning don't do that. People who are winning try to change things as little as possible. Team Romney points to a CNN post-debate snap poll to argue that Mitt held his own, but everyone knows snap polls suck -- you just don't have the time to get the demographics right. Predictors with better track records gave the debate to Obama, by a country mile. That seems to be bearing out, as the two most talked about moments from the debate -- Romney's self-laid Rose Garden trap and his "binders full of women" comment (which turned out to be a lie) -- aren't exactly gleaming moments of debate brilliance for the GOP candidate.
And, while Mitt's doing well in a lot of national polling, state level polling is a different story. That's got to have Team Romney worried. "[The] advantage of relying more on state polls is that if you fail, you will tend to fail well," explained Nate Silver earlier this week. "That is, if there really is a big difference between the Electoral College and the popular vote, the state polls will at least get the Electoral College winner right — and that’s what determines who occupies the White House." It could be that Romney's headed toward landslides in some safe red states and that's reflected in national polling. But that doesn't help you out with the Electoral College. Texas, for example, gives you 38 electoral votes and only 38 electoral votes -- whether you win it by 51% or by 99%. Big leads in states you were always sure to win amount to noise when it comes to making predictions. Therefore, national polls contain a lot of this white noise. If you're always talking about national polls because the state levels don't look as hot, you're probably not doing really well.
I suppose there's always the possibility that Team Romney's telegraphing the wrong strategy, to try to get Obama to prepare the wrong defense. It's not like they haven't done that before. But the fact is that Romney has to do something to put this thing away or it will in all likelihood slip away from him.
And this final forum probably represents Mitt's longest shot at a debate win. This third one will be devoted to foreign policy -- Mitt's weakest subject. The Libya/Rose Garden gaffe serves as an example of how ready-for-prime-time the candidate is here. His last foreign policy address was a joke. On issues of the economy, Mitt can fake it. On foreign policy, he can't even do that. He's probably sharpening that particular edge as we speak, but it's an extremely dull blade -- he may not have the time. Geopolitics is a subject of breathtaking magnitude. "Get tough with China and Iran" and "let's throw money at our already bloated military" doesn't even begin to cover it all.
It may be that being aggressive is Romney's only hope in the final debate. By taking control of everything, he can steer the conversation away from the vast, foggy grey areas of his ignorance and toward the simplistic, bumpersticker slogans that make up his foreign policy positions.
But we also now know that can't possibly work. If the last debate is any indication, Mitt Romney will get away with nothing when it comes to trying to steal the debate from the moderator.
There is no doubt that Mitt Romney is hoping for the opportunity to put this election to bed. But the odds for doing that may actually be better for Barack Obama.