Despite my initial ambivalence about John McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign and come to Washington to help hammer out a bailout deal, I later concluded his “gambit had paid off” when his rival “capitulated and agreed to come to Washington for a summit organized by President Bush.”
Yet, the one thing which troubled me about McCain’s bold move was that he didn’t leave himself any wiggle room to participate in tonight’s debate. Â I wish he had said something like this: “Should we make headway toward reaching a bipartisan compromise on a bailout bill, I’ll fly down to Oxford to debate Senator Obama.”
As a result, the MSM has portrayed his move as an “about face” (or so CNN was spinning it when I was doing my cardio about an hour ago.) Â The normally even-handed (but left-leaning) Chris Cilliza concluded that McCain blinked. Â Even a smart young conservative blogger hasÂ questioned McCain’s consistency. Â Yet, if he does well tonight, it won’t matter much to those who watch the debate (while it will to the chattering classes).
Had McCain made the caveat I wish he had made, the media would not have been able to level the charge, particularly given the progress he has made in helping air House Republican views.
Or maybe this was McCain’s strategy all along. Â Had Obama not come to Washington, McCain would have been the sole presidential candidate in our nation’s capital working on the most pressing issue of the day while Obama was prepping for the debate in a Florida resort.
Realizing that those contrasting images might have made Obama appear out of touch, McCain anticipated Obama’s decision toÂ come to Washington, depriving him of the time he wanted to prepare for tonight’s debate. Â The Democrat doesn’t do all that well without a TelePrompTer.
That said, I think McCain blundered in not allowing himself enough wiggle room to participate in tonight’s forum, especially because he can point to some progress in bailout negotiations. Â Other conservative bloggers, notablyÂ Jim GeraghtyÂ andÂ Mary Katharine HamÂ have offered harsher assessments than I (I recommend both posts). Â The Powerline folks more ambivalent.
The campaign has definitely suffered some short-term damage. Â Delivering a strong performance tonight and helping effect a truly bipartisan bailout bill will almost certainly erase that damage with the general public. Â But, I’ll wager that the mainstream media will still be carping about it for weeks to come.