My first reaction to McCain's decision to suspend his campaign and forego the debate due to the economic meltdown was that it was an awful move. My second reaction was the same. The country is facing a crisis and McCain, who just ran a TV spot saying, "I've tackled tougher guys than this before," cuts and runs. This is exactly counter to the image that his campaign has tried to foster. He is choosing to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
And yet, it may turn out to be a smart move. Today, National Journal has a story about a poll, conducted for Newt Gingrich's organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, by two pollsters, one R, one D, showing that 7 in 10 Americans oppose using tax dollars to prevent companies from failing and 68% favor letting companies go bankrupt, even if it hurts the stock market. However, the story goes on to say that a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that more than 60% of Americans favored the government's stepping in stabilize the economy. I find the first poll more credible than the second: The visceral reaction of most Americans is against government bailouts.
It is clear now that the McCain camp is putting all its chips on McCain's maverick, populist image. They are adapting the old advice for lawyers: If the law is on your side, pound on the law; if the facts are on your side, pound on the fact; if neither is on your side, pound on the table. There is a huge constituency that does not like bailouts. (Opposition to bailouts is in the 2008 GOP platform.) The Democrats are in charge of Congress, and it is their job to pass a bill. Without Republican help, they can't pass it. And it looks like they can't pass it, certainly not in the Senate if Republicans continue to oppose it. So McCain gets to oppose Bush (who he doesn't like anyway), burnish his credentials as a populist/maverick/reformer, and leave the Democrats and Bush holding the bag. This looks pretty smart to me -- if you don't care that it is totally irresponsible for a presidential ticket to offer nothing constructive in a time of crisis and make it difficult, if not totally impossible, for anybody else to do so.
I might add that if George W. Bush had not spent all his political capital on Iraq, if he had not put all his chips for winning reelection on scaring the American people about how dangerous the world is (yes, it IS dangerous, and always will be so), if he had not asked the American people to trust him about weapons of mass destruction, if he had not violated their trust by stretching the constitution and allowing the Justice Department to become politicized .... oh, well, what's the use of wondering about what might have been if he had governed in a way to earn and keep the public's trust? Too late. He is as bereft of political capital today as Wall Street is bereft of actual capital. He is the lamest lame duck I have ever seen.
- 1 week