Debate Verdict: McCain snatches defeat from the jaws of victory

I score the debate for McCain. The first part, on the financial crisis & bailout, was even, since neither candidate is truly in the loop. They’ve both tried to look they were involved, with McCain pulling the stunt about suspending his campaign to rescue the bill, but it didn’t work: the deal was still uncertain at debate time, so McCain had to break his promise to stop campaigning and work on the deal to make the debate. He didn’t have enough specifics to give straight answer on the bill, and neither did Obama. McCain was weak throughout the whole segment, and Obama should have decked him but didn’t.

The second part, on foreign affairs and national defense, went to McCain. Obama continues with the ill-advised strategy of trying to paint McCain as a Bush clone, and that’s just not going to work. Sure, it plays well with Democratic audiences, but Obama has to reach out to the indifferent voters who still see McCain as a maverick. As Debra Saunders puts it,

George W. Bush is not running for re-election. The gratuitous Bush-bashing has gotten old – and it makes Obama sound like a college student at a political rally. Maybe it works with the crowd, but most voters are looking for a leader for the next four to eight years. And it takes no leadership to kick someone with an approval rate higher only than that of Congress.

McCain was able to rattle off a long list of areas where he’s disagreed with Bush, and it’s persuasive. Obama scored points on being opposed to the Iraq War in the first place, but it’s academic at this point, and besides, most of America was where McCain was on that issue.

So at the end of the debate, McCain was the winner, and by a significant margin. The only saving grace for Obama is that a lot of voters probably tuned out before McCain gathered steam toward the end. But the McCain team soundly lost the post-debate debate. Joe Biden was all over the place giving interviews and sounding like an elder statesman, while Palin was in some undisclosed location getting a brain transplant. It was like a tag-team wrestling match on one side against a team of one on the other. Palin’s absence from the airwaves reinforces her lack of ability, and McCain’s pre-debate dramatics made him look less serious as well. So McCain did fine in the second half of the debate, but lost all the surrounding events.

One theory about McCain’s pre-debate dramatics holds that he was trying to buy time for Palin by delaying Thursday’s VP debate. The Couric interview suggests that’s a plausible ploy.

The VP selections are important, because there’s a greater than average chance that the winner of this election won’t live out his term. McCain is old and infirm, and Obama’s black. We have a nasty history of assassinations in this country, and Obama is bound to have his haters among the segment of the population that goes for that. That’s gruesome, but that’s the way I see it. I remember the Kennedy assassination and the attempts on Ford and Reagan all too well.

Another way to look at it: if we consider the candidates even in terms of temperament, preparation, and intelligence, then we have to turn to the VPs to be the tie-breaker. Biden vs. Palin’s not even close.

So how should Biden deal with Heidi Doody in their debate? Certainly, he can’t be snide or condescending, and he can’t be aggressive because she’s a girl. But it’s a real challenge for somebody who’s not an insult to the American system of politics to share a stage with someone who is. I’d suggest he take a page from Obama’s playbook on Bill O’Reilly and tune it for the occasion. Like Palin, O’Reilly’s completely insane, and while he’s probably not a dunce in real life, he certainly plays one on TV. Obama didn’t let O’Reilly ramble, politely interjecting his comments as soon as it was apparent he’d made some sort of point or asked some sort of statement.

Biden should let Palin talk, because she’s her own worst enemy. Let her talk, ramble, and tie herself up in knots, and then summarize her answers for the audience. When she trots out multiple talking points and connects them incorrectly, play it straight and say something like “Gov. Palin says the bailout is a job-creation umbrella program, I think, but I have to disagree. We don’t look to government to create jobs, that’s what free enterprise is for. The bailout is about preserving our financial system so that people *with jobs* won’t be thrown out of their homes. I’m all for job creation, but that’s not what the bailout is about.” He can also look quizzical and scratch his head when she makes some boneheaded remark, and there will be several. McCain tried to protect her by over-using the phrase “Obama’s naive and clueless,” but it won’t be necessary for Biden to say that in so many words, because the voters are going to see it with their own eyes.

But in any event, this is the high point of the McCain campaign. He’s just had his military debate, against a backdrop of high anxiety about the future of our economy. The next three debates are all downhill for him, as are current events, and at this rate the election could easily be a colossal blowout.

5 thoughts on “Debate Verdict: McCain snatches defeat from the jaws of victory”

  1. From what I've read and seen, McCain lost the debate rather big, evidently because he did not engage Obama. He never made eye contact with him; he never referred to him in the 2nd person, and as one of Josh Marshall's readers pointed out, that kind of makes him look like the gamma monkey, and evidently snap-polling of undecided voters wound up scoring for Obama.

    Don't get me wrong: I think Obama could have done much better on the foreign policy bit (the “surge” per se didn't work, it was the pay-offs to sheiks that did the trick; we could have saved oodles just by writing checks and sending troops home). And it took forever for Obama to point out that McCain didn't know the difference between a strategy and a tactic.

    But one thing is evident: these things are won viscerally, not because Americans actually delve into policy.

  2. I watched most of the debate, and my immediate reaction was that Obama won it as well. But the first reaction gave way to the realization that Obama relied too heavily on painting McCain with the Bush brush, and even though that's mostly accurate, it doesn't square with the public's perception that McCain is a maverick.

    The main thing Obama should stress is that this is not a time to send a team of disjointed, free-wheeling mavericks to Washington – we need a sober team with good judgment and grasp of economic matters. As teh man said, in presidential politics “it's the economy, stupid.”

  3. McCain soundly beat Hussin just as Gov Palin throughly splattered Biden tonight.The markets will swiftly make an up swing once President McCain is elected.  God forbid, if the muslim is elected blue fabric will be in strong demand..

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