TODAY | October 23, 2012
>> the presidential debates wrapped up with a high-energy performance from president obama . meanwhile, governor romney criticized the president for his foreign policy record over the last four years, and it had a different feel from any of the other two.
>> yeah. we have had three very distinct debates. debate season is over. two weeks to election day , but here's how it's all playing out this morning in the papers. the headline in " usa today ," obama, romney go on attack in sharp final debate. while the liberal-leaning huffingtonpost.com declared chief in command.
>> the " los angeles times " says obama reverses roles and comes out swinging at romney in the final debate and "the miami herald ," verbal punch esbut no outright knockout. let's get right to nbc's chuck todd , political director and chief white house correspondent, in boca raton , site of last night's debate. chuck, good morning.
>> reporter: good morning. it's just two weeks until election day , and what was interesting about this third and final debate, it was a clash only in styles as an aggressive president was met with very little resistance from his republican opponent who chose to believe that simply showing up was enough to keep his momentum intact. the final debate, a study in contrast. an aggressive president obama trying to disqualify mitt romney as a potential commander in chief and also seeming like the candidate with more to prove.
>> i know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy , but every time you've offered an opinion you've been wrong. when it comes to our foreign policy , you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s , just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s . what we need to do with respect to the middle east is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map.
>> romney rarely hit back directly. attacking me is not an agenda. attacking me is not talking about how we're going to deal with the challenges that exist in the middle east .
>> as the debate went on, romney seemed to settle on a strategy of staying above the fray, searching for areas of agreement.
>> would you have stuck with mubarak?
>> no. i believe, as the president indicated, and said at the time, that i supported his -- his action there.
>> we had to go into pakistan. we had to go in there to get osama bin laden . that was the right thing to do.
>> yet, despite agreement on specifics, romney did criticize the president's overall foreign policy record.
>> look at the record of the last four years and say iran closer to a bomb? yes. is the middle east in tumult? yes. is al qaeda on the run? on its heels? no.
>> but romney let some charges go completely unanswered, not responding to this seemingly rehearsed zinger on defense spending .
>> i think governor romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. you mentioned the navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916 . well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. we have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them.
>> in a debate designed to focus on foreign policy the two candidates often tried to steer the conversation back to the economy. during a question about china and trade, the two clashed over the auto bailout, with both clearly concerned about battleground ohio.
>> and if we had taken your advice, governor romney about our auto industry , we'd be buying cars from china instead of selling cars to china.
>> i'm a son of detroit. i was born in detroit. my dad was head of a car company. i like american cars , and i would do nothing to hurt the u.s. auto industry . my plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. it was president bush that wrote the first checks. i disagreed with that. i said they need these companies, need to go through a managed bankruptcy.
>> governor romney , you keep on trying to, you know, air brush history here. you were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the u.s. auto companies even if they went through bankruptcy. you said that they could get it in the private marketplace. that wasn't true. they would have gone --
>> you're wrong. you're wrong, mr. president.
>> no, i am not wrong.
>> people can look it up, you're right.
>> people will look it up.
>> in the debate's final moments the candidates made their final pitch to voters.
>> we've been through tough times but we always bounce back because of our character, because we pull together, and if i have the privilege of being your president for another four years i promise i'll always listen to your voices. i will fight for your families and israel work every single day to make sure that america continues to be the greatest nation on earth.
>> we need strong leadership. i'd like to be that leader with your support. i'll work with you. i'll lead you in an open and honest way, and i ask for your vote. i'd like to be the next president of the united states to support and help this great nation and to make sure that we all together maintain america as the hope of the