Sometimes I get frustrated with how conservative talk radio hosts miss the small stories with a big impact on the election. One of those happened today when John McCain announced he was suspending his campaign and asked to postpone the first debate to head to Washington, DC, to help with the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told McCain not to bother, and Barack Obama said he still wanted to hold the debate. Democrats crowed that this proved McCain wasn't fit to be President because he couldn't juggle more than one thing at a time.
But the Left is in for a surprise if they think they think McCain blundered here. It was a brilliant political move made for the right reasons. Take a look at what this one move does for McCain.
- By suspending his campaign, McCain looks like a leader at a time when many Americans are looking to government to come up with a solution. Even if he's rebuffed, the fact he was willing to put his campaign on to do his job shows he's focused on working for the American people. Compared to Obama's refusal to break off the campaign, this makes McCain look Presidential.
- Suspending his campaign also means McCain won't be spending campaign funds. With a race being as close as it is, saving money can mean the difference between sipping champagne at a victory party and drinking beer after a concession speech. Without spending money on ads or campaign travels, that gives McCain more bang for the buck later on. Obama may have more money, but he's going to have to spend it if he wants to keep the heat on McCain. Meanwhile, all McCain has to do is head to DC to put the heat on Obama.
- With Harry Reid telling McCain not to show up in DC and with his comments about how he felt McCain's announcement was a PR stunt, he's given McCain a way to expose America to just how out of touch the Democrats in Congress are. McCain was willing to help at a time when people are looking for leaders, and Reid slaps away McCain's hand? Considering McCain saw this whole bailout situation coming back in 2005, Reid might want to reconsider to save face and, oh, his job. This snub by Reid can come back to haunt the Congressional Democrats just when both houses of Congress are back in play. Bad timing and judgment on his part.
- This suspension, even if the debate isn't going to be postponed, can give McCain more time for debate preparation. With the first debate being about foreign policy, every statement McCain makes will be scrutinized by the American press (who is in Obama's back pocket) to the world press (who will jump on any statement that makes it seem as though McCain will continue with the foreign policy George W. Bush has put into place). McCain has to appear to be strong on foreign policy without looking like he's depending on Bush's foreign policy to rule his decisions. The difference between McCain's debate prep and Obama's is that the latter needs to cram to appear to be intelligent on foreign policy.
- Although much of the attention is on Barack Obama's response, McCain's actions also hurt Joe Biden. Biden's already starving for media attention, and what he's said this week alone has to make Obama's supporters a little skittish about him. While Obama might need to brush up on his foreign policy, Biden isn't the one debating McCain. He's free to head back to DC to act as Obama's surrogate, but yet he's not. Maybe he's helping Obama cram for the first debate (although from what I've seen of his foreign policy experience, Biden's experience with foreign policy could be tapped in 5, 10 minutes tops). But the fact that neither Obama nor Biden is in DC right now tells me that they're in hiding, hoping the issue doesn't entangle them too much.
- By pushing for the debate now, Obama is hoping to erase the memory of his past. A few months ago, Obama said he would debate McCain any time, any place, anywhere. Then, when McCain took him up on the offer, Obama demurred. By saying now that the debate should continue as planned, not only does he look like he's afraid to do his job, it makes him look like a jerk and as someone who makes empty promises. If McCain's campaign is smart, this whole situation and Obama's previous statements will be used in an ad, and Obama will have no one to blame but himself.
- Some segments of the news have already reported that Obama has received quite a bit of money in campaign contributions from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Also, Franklin Raines, the controversial former head of Fannie Mae, is one of Obama's economic advisors. Since Fannie Mae is one of the particulars in the bailout, this whole situation almost requires Obama to at least show up for some of the bailout discussion. His failure to do so makes it look like he's running from the situation, which makes him look guilty. As long as there's even a little doubt in people's minds that Obama is playing straight with us on this issue, it becomes a drag on his poll numbers as long as people connect the scandal with him.
There may be more ways that McCain's actions hurt Obama and the Democrats, and I'm sure they'll come out in the days to come. But one thing is certain.
With one move, McCain has moved Obama into checkmate yet again.