In an unprecedented move, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona, Presidential hopeful) has suspended his campaign and withdrawn from the first scheduled presidential debate citing a need to return to Washington D.C. and work on the "historic" financial crisis (cut him some slack for forgetting about 1929's Great Depression; he wasn't even born until 1936).
A cynic might wonder, "After a 29-year career as a U.S. Senator, why is McCain suddenly getting to work on the economy?" My inside source (i.e. my brain) tells me McCain's decision is based on three major premises.
- He will "lose" every debate. The September 26th debate scheduled to take place at the University of Mississippi is supposed to focus on National Security, a topic that the media consistently claims is McCain's strength [Ed. Note: I was a child for ten or twelve (okay, 29) years, but I am not an expert on children.]. However, with the Dow behaving like a Six-Flag's Thrill Ride, the debate would have to include talk about the economy, the topic that polls now show matters most to the electorate. Coincidentally, Obama is hammering McCain on the economy, with a new Washington Post-ABC News national poll suggesting that among likely voters, Obama now leads McCain by 52 percent to 43 percent. (Now, remember: A "likely voter" is someone with an actual voting record; thus, all polls of "likely voters" do not count the hoards of new voters that Obama has drawn into the process.) Knowing that his moment of "strength" will become an hour of liability, McCain is extending the Palin-Cone-of-Silence to his own person, and he's using the debate as leverage to rush through a governmental economic bailout that most Americans do not support.
- He is trying to project an image of someone who can help the economy. McCain has made more gaffes and mistaken comments about the economy than he has about Sunnis and Shias and Czechoslovakia and the Iraq-Afghanistan-border-that-most-everyone-else-calls-Iran combined. As per the Washington Post-ABC poll, McCain knows the American people think he's economically inept [Ed. Note: He did marry well, which should count for something. However, as is well-known, Cindy McCain’s assets are kept separate from her husband’s as per a prenuptial agreement. In my most despondent moments, I find glee in a potential campaign ad that might say something like, "McCain's wife won't trust him with her money. Why should you?"]. By presumably putting pressure on Congress to act—although, honestly, with Obama up in national polls across the board and the writing on the wall about who will win a debate between them, the Republicans know a debate will put the nail in the coffin and the Democrats know that Americans will see through McCain's political theater, so who really feels any pressure?—McCain thinks he can recast himself as an economic problem solver. To me, he seems like a political terrorist who is taking the process hostage. As Americans, we have a right to see the candidates debate, and as a sometimes-intelligent human, I want to know that a president can juggle two things at once, especially if one of those things is only standing up and talking about his or her ideas.
- He is trying to save money. Part of McCain's "suspension" involves pulling his advertising. Consider this: Obama out-fundraises McCain. By huge margins. In fact, if Obama wanted to run an ad in every major market every 10 minutes from now until the election, he could probably afford it, and if he couldn't afford it right now he could probably get people to kick in enough money to do it. But he isn't doing that. So, with this fundraising, one has to expect that the week before the election will be an Obama-thon in every contested market, and McCain just doesn't have those resources. According to OpenSecrets.org, as of August 21, 2008, Obama had $77,404,118 cash on hand, while McCain had only $36,370,792. I'm no math guy, but Obama had over double the amount of money then, and he continues to raise money like he has a license to print it. When a few days remain and Obama wants to spread his message (or drown McCain's), he'll have the resources to do it.
Ultimately, the voters will decide what to make of McCain's emergency suspension to deal with this crisis. However, with McCain-Palin's recent track record with the media, I'm pretty sure I have a sense of how this move will play. Swan song, anyone?
[Update: Now, the McCain camp suggests that the Biden-Palin debate be postponed to accomodate McCain's cut-n-run. So, point #4 might be that Palin is having trouble learning the playbook.]