The John McCain campaign has become just one hail mary after another. It's hard to take seriously. I've been reading the furious spin from among the local righties about this "suspension," but, come on--McCain lost K-Lo on this one. How bad does it have to be for K-Lo to think you have gone around the bend?
The first hail mary was McCain's demand for weekly town halls. It's a truism that the candidate with the upper hand never asks for more debates, since the danger is that if people see more of the guy who's losing, then they might realize he's not as bad as they thought. McCain has kept milking the town halls for months, blaming Obama's reluctance to give McCain that free TV time for, to cite one example, the reason why McCain had to start lying about Obama in his TV ads.
Hail mary number two was Sarah Palin, which almost looked like it would work. It did, indeed, re-energize the conservative fringe of the Republican base. No one can deny that. But once the shine was off the apple, Palin's numbers returned to negative McCain territory. McCain still has that base, of course, which will be valuable for trunout and GOTV stuff, but he didn't do anything to secure the middle that you always need to win.
And now there's the current business--McCain has "suspended" his campaign so that he can "focus" on the financial crisis. That became important today, obviously, and not last week when Lehman and AIG happened, or anytime after April 8, which was the last time McCain voted on anything in the Senate. Color me skeptical.
Consider how masterfully Barack Obama played this, though. He calls at 8:30 in the morning and says, "Hey, John, seems like you and I aren't far off on this bailout thing, so why don't we hammer out a statement of common principles?" This is all on the Q-T, mind you--no one knows about this but the campaigns until much later after McCain blew it.
McCain has two choices: One, he can agree to it. This is bad news for the aforementioned conservative fringe of the party. They just got their wish in Palin and McCain's new-found partisanship; the last thing McCain wants to do is suddenly look all bipartisan and re-open himself to charges of RINOism. Two, McCain can decline, in which case Obama puts out a release and McCain loses at the other end, in the middle, where independent and moderate voters are looking for evidence that McCain is still the maverick they remember.
So rather than run or take the safe pass, McCain hail marys again, and "suspends" his campaign to go back to Washington. He does stop off to see Katie Couric and Lady du Rothschild first--and he'll talk to Clinton's organization tomorrow--but he's, you know, not airing his ads any more. (How desperate is he to save money?)
The reason why McCain needs to do this? Because of hail marys number one and two. One, McCain is now looking to get out of the debate scheduled for Friday, which was destined to be about foreign policy but would inevitably include a question or two about the present crisis. Had McCain's town hall ploy worked, this wouldn't be an issue, since the debates in the present format wouldn't be happening.
Two, consider what would have happened had McCain gone with Mitt Romney for his running mate. Mitt Romney, the businessman. Mitt Romney, the Fixer. Mitt Romney, who single-handedly saved the Salt Lake City olympics. McCain-Romney's numbers would be skyrocketing right now. But Palin? She doesn't know any more about the economy than I do. McCain's attempts to reschedule the first debate for the night that the veeps would have debated is a naked attempt to save Sarah Palin the embarrassment of being revealed ignorant on national TV.
As much as the right has been criticizing Joe "I don't know when to keep my mouth shut" Biden this week as being indicative of Obama's poor decision-making skills, you have to realize that McCain is now suffering mightily from the bad decision-making all along. (Let us not forget that all of it is compounded by the fact that McCain's campaign is being run by lobbyists who themselves or whose firms are closely associated with a lot of the players now demanding rescue in the bailout.)
No football coach would throw a hail mary on the first play. Or the second. Or the twenty-fifth. Only, only at the end do you dare, and even then it's always plan C at best. I do not want a president whose decision-making instinct begins and ends with the hail mary.
Obama, on the other hand, who reached out, under the media radar, to say, "Look, this problem is bigger than Republican or Democrat, so let's work something out together," is showing the kind of temperament being the leader of the free world demands.