Over the last few weeks, I’ve been really impressed by how agile the McCain campaign has been in controlling the news cycle. As I’ve mentioned before, the Sarah Palin choice, though mocked by many, has really shaken up the race and made an otherwise establishment candidacy seem almost edgy. It took weeks for the slow-footed Obama campaign to deal with Palin effectively at all, and really, it’s too late now.
Yesterday McCain pulled another trick out of his hat: the economic crisis is so bad, he told us, he was suspending his campaign to go back to Washington and help work on solving it. As political theater, it was a genius move. The man who a few months ago admitted to not knowing much about the economy suddenly had put it at the forefront of his campaign, and he all but dared Obama to follow suit and suspend his campaign. Again, brilliant, because now Obama’s “thanks but no thanks” response makes him seem less serious about the economy than McCain.
But you have to remember that this is nothing more than political theater. McCain does not sit on any of the committees that will be debating the Wall Street bailout, and his presence at the president’s contrived economic summit will be mostly as an observer. But it was pretty damn good political theater.
And then Letterman happened. Scheduled to appear on “Late Night” last night, McCain begged off at the last minute because, as Letterman put it, “the economy is exploding.” Letterman made the most of it, mocking McCain at every turn (you can see the video here). But then Letterman showed McCain getting his makeup put on for an interview with Katie Couric. I’m sure that moment will be network news fodder for a while. Ditching Letterman for Katie Couric was a dumb move.
Other than that misstep, though, McCain’s campaign has been pretty agile and smart, and Obama’s has been mostly in reactive mode, a weird stance for a campaign about youth and change. The relative skill of the campaigns would matter in any other year, I suppose. But not this year. The stars are aligned for a massive Republican defeat, and I will say here that the Bush Administration has done so much damage to the Republican party that it will not be able to recover in a long time. We are back to the days of the mid-20th century, when the Republican party was so much in the minority that it was almost irrelevant.
So, enjoy the theater while it lasts. We won’t see much more of McCain after next month.