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1980 all over again? Romney channels Reagan as Election Day looms

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Oct. 22, 2012: President Barack Obama listens as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the third presidential debate. (AP/Reuters Pool)

Mitt Romney arrived at the third and final presidential debate, with its focus on foreign policy and national security, as the understandable underdog facing a sitting president who receives intelligence briefings on a daily basis. Yet, from the outset, it was the challenger who actually looked more “presidential.”

President Obama looked like a champion prizefighter who knew he was behind on points in the late rounds and needed a knockout that never came. Instead, the challenger effectively counter-punched when he said, “Attacking me is not an agenda.” The president’s attacks and interruptions made him seem less “presidential” than the challenger who came across calm and relaxed.

President Obama did score points, however, when he related the personal story of the 4-year-old who last spoke to her father on the phone from the Twin Towers on 9/11 and how the killing of Usama bin Laden had helped her and so many others with closure. 

He also scored points on his Asia-Pacific initiative. 

But for the most part, Obama’s performance can be summed up in three acts: Act I—I Killed Bin Laden; Act II—Miscellaneous Romney attacks; and Act III—The need for nation building at home. And by the way, there was an Act IV, which was a constant repetition of all of the above.

Romney showed depth and knowledge on Al Qaeda’s takeover of northern Mali and the Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist network. 

What was so striking about this debate is how reminiscent it was of the 1980 Carter-Reagan presidential debate.

He was also effective in making the case that America’s enormous debt threatens our national security and that with a Romney presidency, Russia’s Vladimir Putin will get “more backbone,” instead of “more flexibility” from the United States. 

His finest moment came when he took the president head-on concerning his “Apology Tour” throughout the Arab World in 2009. Romney was able to reel off the countries Obama visited (and the fact that he skipped Israel) and mentioned that the president had said that America had been dismissive and derisive and had dictated to other nations. 

For me, the Republican presidential nominee’s firm statement that “America has not dictated to other nations—America has freed nations from dictators” was THE line from the debate.

What was so striking about this debate is how reminiscent it was of the 1980 Carter-Reagan presidential debate. This is true of the substance of the debate, the candidates’ actual performances and the current state of the campaign. In both instances, sitting presidents who had presided over very weak economies were being challenged by former governors who had been demonized by many on the left.

In Ronald Reagan’s case, he came across not as the warmonger he had been depicted as, but as a likeable leader who believed in “peace through strength.” The American people felt comfortable with him as commander-in-chief.

Likewise with Mitt Romney on Monday night. Prior to the debates, what most Americans knew about Romney was what they had heard in a 15 second sound-bite in a 30 second commercial or in a Super PAC ad determined to demonize him.

In the debate on foreign policy and national security, Mitt Romney talked about securing “principles of peace” in the Middle East and around the world. The American people could see  him as a man who is ready to be president of the United States—not the warmonger or demon that George Soros’ minions and millions have depicted.

Ronald Reagan closed the deal in the 1980 debate with the American people when he asked the question, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Similarly, Mitt Romney said on Monday night America can’t afford another four years like the past four years.

Mitt Romney’s closing brought back memories of Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” However, with Romney, America is the “hope of the Earth.” And yes, he looked “presidential.”

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in government affairs, business development and public relations. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and currently serves on Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union and The National Capitol Board of The Salvation Army. Follow him on Twitter @VanHipp.