The first time I heard Mitt Romney complain, 'Our navy is smaller than it's been since 1917," it was in January. Even at the time, the argument didn't make much sense, and for months, the talking point largely disappeared.
That changed very recently, when Romney brought it back, apparently hoping to get a boost in Virginia. When the Republican repeated it last night, President Obama was well prepared.
For those who missed it and can't watch clips online, it quickly became one of the most memorable comments from the night:
"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's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities."
Romney walked into that one, and was left looking very foolish.
Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters last night that Obama "dismissed ships because he compared them to the horses and bayonets of an earlier time. That's a remarkable statement."
Actually, no, that's a remarkably dumb response. The underlying truth may confuse the Republican candidate and his team, but it really isn't that complicated.
The Navy's downsized fleet is the result of a reorganization that began decades before Obama even took office. We have fewer dreadnoughts, Tim Murphy explained at the time, but as part of modernization, we also have more aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.
Several months ago, someone gave Romney a talking point that he thought sounded good, but he never faced any scrutiny for it. Last night, Obama effectively debunked the nonsense, exposing the degree to which Romney's understanding of military policy is shallow and incomplete, while also reinforcing the larger point about the inexperienced Republican looking backwards when it comes to national security.