October 23rd, 2012
10:01 AM ET

Zakaria: Is it a debate when the candidates agree?

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney traded barbs in their foreign policy debate on Monday - but are they really so different?

Fareed Zakaria weighed in with post-debate analysis on CNN. Here's an edited transcript of some of that conversation with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

    On differences between the candidates:

Romney in video clip: The greatest threat of all is Iran four years closer to a nuclear weapon. And we're going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president's done. I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al Qaeda, but we can't kill our way out of this mess.

Cooper: Are those the policies he would actually have in place as president? Do we know where he is? Because it didn't seem there was much difference. He seemed to be agreeing with President Obama an awful lot.

Zakaria: But I think David [Gergen's] point is exactly right. Romney actually, where he attacked Obama, attacked him from the left. He said: "You don't have enough of a civil society strategy. You don't have enough of an education strategy toward Islamic extremism. You're the cowboy."

What's strange here is this was a version of what Mitt Romney did in the first debate. Which is to say, Romney surprised Obama in the first debate by being more centrist: "I'm not going to do anything to raise the deficits, whatever you may have heard about my tax plan." Except this time Obama was ready...

Related: Q&A with Fareed: How different are the policies, really?

Cooper: Do you think [the debate] moved the needle in any direction?

Zakaria: I think it wasn't a debate as much as a discussion. Because, as I said, Romney agreed with Obama so much in a surprising way.

The one area where I wonder whether Obama gained an advantage is that he quite effectively pointed out that Romney was indecisive or had waffled on an issue. And he kept saying, "Being commander in chief, being president, is about being consistent. I said I'd do this when I started." I think that was probably the most effective line of attack that Obama had.

On China's reaction

Cooper: It was interesting to hear both candidates talking tough about China. The question is, what can they actually do down the road?

Zakaria: Well, it's interesting to get a sense of the Chinese reaction. I've talked to many Chinese, and they had always thought going into this campaign that they were going to like Romney. There are three things they love. He's an American businessman and they generally admire the American businessman. He's a Republican, and in general, over the last 30 or 40 years, the Chinese have thought the Republicans were the party of business, generally more free trade. And three, he organized the Olympics, and the Chinese also went through the Olympics [organization]. So it has been a rude surprise to them that Romney has been so tough.

And even in this debate, what you notice is this: In this version, Obama kept saying "look, they could be a partner, we want to cooperate with them." But Romney hammered away for the most part. This was the place where he softened his tone least. In most of the other areas, Benghazi, for example, it was almost a complete reversal. On China, he was softer but still pretty tough. So I imagine in Beijing they're very reluctantly coming to the conclusion that whatever America may want, they want continuity, not change.

On undecided voters

Cooper: It was interesting to see our focus group [of undecided voters] when asked if [the debate] had changed people's minds and if people had now kind of gone in their direction. It seemed like a majority of them raised their hands saying [the debate] had pushed them toward one direction or the other, but they didn't specify.

Zakaria: There's a very small sliver of people you're looking at. And you can even see the occasional chances that Romney took to distinguish himself [especially] directed at domestic politics.

So, for instance, Florida is very much in play. There are a lot of Jewish voters there, and Romney decided on Iran he was going to take one further step and say that he would indict Ahmadinejad, presumably for war crimes. I'm not sure how you can do that...But clearly that was a kind of rhetorical flourish directed at a very specific set of voters who he was trying to sway.

Topics: 2012 Election

soundoff (129 Responses)
  1. Tea Party Patriot

    Q: How many illegal mexicans does it take to shingle a roof?
    A: It depends how thin they're sliced.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Reply
    • im a romney supporter and that is disgusting- obviously a pro obama lefty wrote it


      October 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply
    • Bill from GA

      Q. How many Tea Party Patriots does it take to make Idiot Stew?

      A. As many as you got.

      October 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  2. Willie12345

    Is an opinion article original, if you copy other peoples material and don't give them credit for it, Fareed ?

    October 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Reply
  3. Jim

    No. It's bipartisanship.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  4. Gkibarricade

    While Obama may have won on debate points, Romney scored major points with me. I agree with Romney on the Economy, Obama on healthcare and Romney on abortion/LGBT issues. However, the most important for me is Foriegn Affairs and Romney was trying to get into a war with Iran. Romney's peace message tells me that he doesn't want war. Now all Obama has left is ObamaCare. I really starting to rethink my decision now. Should I vote for Obama or Romney?

    October 23, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  5. Brian

    Translation: Romney is like a stray dog that wags its tail for anybody. He is an opportunistic politician.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  6. Demo Joseph

    No it is not a debate if they agree. Romney is a nut. Did you see how his wife guided him off the stage? Did you see how she went to his side and aided him as he stooped over to speak to people. Something is wrong with him. They type of man guides his woman, not the other way around. He was surly having some issues last night and it was not all about the debate material.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  7. Demo Joseph

    I agree – Freed Z needs to leave. He knows more about America than Romney does.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  8. Bill from GA

    How can anyone trust romney when he changes his positions to appease his latest target audience?

    He has no values.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
    • to the guy names shuyaib....you are the reason americans dont like muslims

      obama changes his mind all the time...on israel he flat out just lies all the time....

      he flip flopped on immigration, on gay marriage, on dont ask dont tell, on border control, on afghanistan...etc..etc..

      obama is a flip flopper extraordinaire for votes...

      October 23, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  9. RoMoney's Horse

    That's because I make a RoMoney noise when I walk. Flippity Flop, Flippity Flop, Flippity Flop. Neeeeeeee!

    October 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  10. wolfpackbob

    It is The Economy, Mr. President. Your Economy, Mr. President. You built that.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  11. Debby

    He agree with him 2 times don't make it out like it was the whole debate Zakaria. They are totally 2 different men when it comes to the economy.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  12. Humanity4All

    Romney made fool of himself, showed poor leadership qualities and always inconsistent and forgetful. What a reck... this must be hurting the GOP base now who paid for for this guy.. Now all he has to do is run more false and negtive ads paid for by rich boys club.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  13. scieng1

    Why do people think that each side has to disagree on everything? This pointless practice of division is a waste of time. What Romney actually did was recognize that many gaps can be closed with simple dialogue–something Obama could not understand. When people agree, they get things done. Obama should learn from that–its how business works.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  14. Bay O. Net

    No, it's not a debate when they agree. And it's not a public service when a candidate moderates his policy proposals during a nationally televised debate without instantly being held accountable for it. If Gary Johnson had been included in these debates as the Libertarian presidential nominee, all Americans would have benefited from a livelier and more informative series of debates with far greater probative value.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  15. Paul

    And in related news..... 98% of CNN staffers think Obama won the third debate, compared to 2% who think Romney won.

    October 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  16. Zanabi

    PAKISTAN.....The New Gateway to Central Asia and Europe.
    With a population of over 180 million most of whom are well educated, English speaking, entrepreneurial and a cultural and social fit with Central Asians...Pakistan will now become the new face and gateway to Central Asia and Europe. Pakistan will thus span this region and provide the impetus for growth, prosperity and unity among these countries. These are new and exciting times for Pakistanis who should now look forward to their new leadership role aligned with Central Asia and Europe rather than the Subcontinent. We wish them much success as they have sacrificed the most during the past 30 + years creating a new world order.

    October 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  17. Joe The Plumber

    Romney had to agree with Obama's policies to not open the door to the widely accepted view that the neocons are not loved by the country.

    October 23, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  18. Mike

    The real question is are you journalist if you plagiarize

    October 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
    • deep blue

      I've read that comment before, yet no citation?

      October 24, 2012 at 9:29 am | Reply
  19. southernwonder

    iran is 20 years closer to making the bomb, or 60 years. how do you establish this time frame? btw, repubican administrations looked the other way which helped pakistan gain the nukes and missies because they still are cold-warriors.

    October 23, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  20. Pepou67

    Romney must be having a very hard time remembering where exactly he stands on issues. So the best for him is to parrot President Obama. In fact I would not have been surprised if he had endorsed him last night.

    October 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  21. TL

    How about this? Obama is a president and Romney is vice president for the next 4 years.Le's how that work....

    October 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  22. 100 % ETHIO

    Was it a debate?
    It does not fit the definition.

    I saw and heard, professional Three Stooges political games.
    The funny game was, "Horses and Bayonets". They are both comics.
    What the laughters!!!

    October 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Reply
  23. john

    All I heard from the debate was, who is going to take it in their rear from Israel, who can please Israel the most, how many times can Israel interfere in our politics, how much more money can we give Israel, can we help Israel wipe out the entire middle east, and is Israel going to kiss us if we dont heed to their demands

    October 23, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  24. T.P.Chia

    I wish to touch on Obama's approach to foreign policy, which is realistically pragmatic and good for the American
    people. His foreign policy will invite more friends and supporters around the world. America does not
    have to spend unnecessarily on military expansion at this point. Nor should America be arrogant and
    confrontational in dealing with the world. America is and will continue to be the greatest military power on earth.
    What this nation needs to do is rebiuld its economic and cultural-educational strengths.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:15 am | Reply
  25. Rick McDaniel

    Actually.......they are very different.

    Obama is subversive. Romney is NOT!

    Obama is conducting secret conversations with Russia, and others, who are not friendly to the U.S. Romney is NOT!

    Obama is sympathetic with Islamists. Romney is NOT!

    Obama acted like a child, with stupid comments about Romney's understanding of the military, when Obama himself, demonstrated his own ignorance of the facts.

    The differences are actually quite large, and quite significant, and those of us who are knowledgeable, know that, because we don't buy into the LIES and deception of the Democratic Party, and Obama specifically.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  26. deniz boro

    You know what, if we realy have a real alien threat from outer space, that will realy change the agenda. I hope the aliens would realy be green so that the costumesof red, white or black hatted actors would change. I've been hearing the same things every election year. Gets realy boring.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  27. deniz boro

    Debate is an old art of brain gymnastics. A good debater can argue both sides of the issue and do it one after another just as convincing. That's what they thought in ancient Roman academies. That was the start of marketing presentation. Just like selling refrigirators to the poles. Just like lawyers do nowadays at courts. Do you want your president to be such a person? However that is exactly what USA does to her president elects. Look into their programs rather than their ratings or scores.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  28. Chris

    Media debate analysis: A cruel joke on the American people. Some short thoughts at http://www.demadvisor.com/2012/10/media-debate-analysis-cruel-joke-on.html

    October 24, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
  29. kamas

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    November 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
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