First thoughts…Both campaigns are going to claim their guy won. But that depends on their criteria.

Neither one lost. But who came across as more presidential? That’s subjective also. It was the better debate of the three, requiring more parsing than the others. President Obama played more defense and offense. Gov. Romney played strategically. He could have come out strong on Libya and had every reason to ask the big questions about the administration’s failures and either lapse in communications or deceptive cover up in the message.

He did neither. Which made pundits speculate that Romney wanted to drop back and let it play out in the investigation, not wanting to appear bellicose.

It was a foreign policy debate, though it strayed often enough into domestic energy and education and other policies.

To hear Romney tell it, the president has presided over a steady decline in American influence that has emboldened enemies like Iran. To hear Obama, the Republican nominee would confuse the rest of the world with a foreign policy that is “all over the map.”

Obama repeated that line often to make it less authentic and well-directed. Too rehearsed.

Obama accused Romney of pushing a foreign policy that’s either flat-out “wrong” or some version of what the president himself has already done, only “louder.” Romney accused the president of projecting “weakness” on the world stage, whether through his so-called “apology tour” overseas or his policy on Iran.

Romney ripped President Obama’s foreign policy at the start of Monday night’s debate, claiming the president’s strategy has not quelled the Al Qaeda threat.

“It’s certainly not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding,” Romney said. “This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries.”

Romney commended Obama for ordering the raid that killed Usama bin Laden and other strikes on Al Qaeda leaders, but he said “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” He said Al Qaeda remains an “enormous threat,” despite Obama’s claims that the terror group is on the path to defeat.

Obama, though, countered that “Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated.” And he sought to portray Romney as someone who would be an unsteady leader on the world stage. He accused Romney of having a strategy that is “all over the map.”

There we go again.

Some moments stood out.

Obama went on to say that, on foreign policy, “every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”

Romney fired back, “attacking me is not an agenda.”

The Wall Street Journal rehashed it as all the media called it in the immediate aftermath.

My impression was that no one lost and no one won, which means those polls showing a dead heat or the president slipping are probably more accurate than polls usually are. wrapped up with this.

The nearly universal consensus on Twitter is that Romney won by holding his own, which is all a challenger needs to do in a foreign-policy debate. After watching him talk about international affairs for 90 minutes, does he seem like a guy you’d trust with the button? If yes, then mission accomplished.

(Says one blogger:)

“There are ample reasons for both Obama and Romney to feel optimistic about their chances Nov. 6. But through his own steady performances and a spectacular first-debate failure by the incumbent, Romney has cleared an important hurdle: A near-decisive number of Americans believe that he is a viable alternative to Obama, an incumbent saddled with a weak economy and a pessimistic national mood.”

Hotair continues:

Another point made more than once in the national tweet scrum tonight was that it sometimes felt like Romney was the incumbent and Obama the angry, occasionally snide challenger…

Romney wanted to show the audience not just that he understands Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran, but that he’s unflappable even in a tense situation. Obama wasn’t facing that test so he could afford to be more aggressive, if only to impress his base. Because he was playing offense, I’ll bet that he wins the insta-polls. But that won’t matter; the bottom line is that Romney’s still on track. Stand by for updates.

This is going to be a gripping two weeks.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....