That’s what they Said about Son of Sam

September 26, 2008

Jonathan Chait has altered his assessment of the McCain Gambit from crazy-like-a-fox to crazy-like-Tom-Cruise. I quote in full:

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts trying to figure out exactly what John McCain was after with this campaign-suspension gambit. My premise is that McCain is a savvy operator who knows how to protect his own political interests. I figured he was looking for some way to shuffle the debate schedule, to move the foreign policy debate until later (when it could have more impact) or to bury/cancel the veep debate. Another theory was that he was trying to claim credit for a bailout bill that appeared on track to be done this week.

But instead, McCain seems to have made no effort whatsoever to bring the bailout legislation to closure. Indeed, he may possibly have sunk the whole thing. On the radio this morning, I heard David Corn of Mother Jones speculate that McCain may be settign himself up to rail against the bailout onm populist grounds. But McCain and his running mate have already stated publicly that a bailout is needed to avoid a depression!

And now, after insisting it would be unpatriotic to campaign and debate before bailout legislation had been completed, is debating anyway, even though a deal is further away than it was when he suspended his campaign.

So I’m abandoning my assumption that McCain had some grand method behind his campaign suspension gambit. I don’t see any method at all.

Now this may be right. The Politico team wrote a piece last night that used the time-honored euphamism of ‘erratic’ in scare quotes to suggest that McCain has just gone batshit crazy. If that’s right, his aides are presumably pretty upset with the Gambit and the rest of it, but are doing their best to create appropriate spin for everything he leaves in his wake.

Again, I’m certainly not ruling this out. But the failure of the talks and McCain’s reversal on the debate don’t rule out strategy behind the Gambit altogether. There are a few things he might be up to that would be more or less rational. First, there’s Nate Silver’s theory: McCain never wanted the debate moved at all. Rather, he wanted to draw attention to it, and force Obama to demand that it proceed, thus making his victory all the more fruitful.

My main problem with this theory is that it would represent massive overkill on the Republicans’ part. Even a debate that draws twice as much attention as it otherwise would have is a relatively low stakes prize next to the economic crisis; handling the bailout politics right is worth far more points than getting people to watch you win a debate, so why sacrifice the former in favor of the latter?

He hasn’t done anything irrational, however, if his plan was the one I suggested last night: he went to D.C. for the express purpose of blowing up the bailout negotiations, forcing the Democrats to do nothing (when they hold a majority in both houses and have the president on their side) or to pass an unpopular bailout in a party-line vote. The man who, as Sarah Palin reminded us yesterday, is known as “The Maverick” could say that he’d fought the good fight against politicking Democrats and that awful Bush guy, so don’t blame him when things fall apart. It’s unlikely to work, of course, but – as we have repeatedly argued here – high upside plans that are unlikely to work has to be the name of the game for McCain from here on out. Skipping the debate and trying to postpone a Palin-Biden matchup would have been a wonderful cherry on top of this, but with public opinion heavily opposed to a cancellation, he can go to Mississippi having accomplished his primary objective.

If the alternatives are that the presidential candidate for a major political party has lost his mind or that he is happy to watch the economy burn for an outside shot of gaining some ground in the polls, I’m not sure which is the more charitable interpretation.

(h/t Caddyshack)


One Response to “That’s what they Said about Son of Sam”

  1. […] don’t disagree that this will likely be bad for McCain: it probably will be. But I recently argued that the only explanation for the McCain Gambit that is consistent with treating his campaign as a […]

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