Examining The McCain Defeat

In the aftermath of the defeat of the McCain campaign, Republicans are trying to figure out not only what went wrong, but what to do in the future. This is a conversation that is a long time coming. From 2000 on, the GOP was unified around George W. Bush. From about 2005 on, Bush was as toxic as a mortgage-backed security. Political movements based around single individuals do not tend to last, and by hitching their wagons to Bush, the Republican Party sowed the seeds of their own downfall. (Note that the Democrats are doing the same with Obama now. Sic transit gloria mundi.)

The failure of the McCain campaign must be tied to the failure of the Bush Presidency. He fought on a completely uneven playing field. The media was in the tank for Obama, and the Democratic machine was energized. But that doesn’t excuse the mistakes of the McCain campaign. They had the right message in the “Country First” theme, but they never really used it effectively. McCain could have won, but it would have taken an incredibly smart campaign to have done it. Instead, the McCain campaign went for the tried-and-true techniques of Bush 2000 and 2004—in a political climate that could not have been more different.

How McCain Could Have Won

The first step that a candidate has to do is understand the political climate. McCain never really had a handle on it. The American public was furious with Congress. Congress’ approval ratings were at the level usually associated with used-car salesmen and dirty diapers. The “politics as usual” of the last 8 years was creating the perfect climate for someone to run against the Beltway.

Obama was “change.” McCain should have been “reform.” With an incredibly unpopular Congress, McCain could have easily ran as the candidate who would clean up government. That’s why the Palin pick was, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the right pick. But the McCain camp never really used her in the right way. Their “maverick” message was nice, but it wasn’t substantive enough. They let the media paint the picture of Sarah Palin, and they lost control of the only one truly brilliant tactical choice they made. The Palin situation could have saved McCain, and it gave him his best numbers, but they never built on the momentum she generated.

When the financial crisis hit, what did McCain do? He ran to the Beltway, and pushed through another pork-laden Beltway deal. I agree with Todd Zywicki that the bailout was the moment where McCain cruised to failure. It undercut McCain’s credentials as a reformer. The “suspension” of his campaign never went anywhere, and McCain never capitalized on it in the way he should have. It made him look panicky and indecisive, which only made Obama’s too-cool-for-school demeanor more attractive.

What should McCain have done? I think the idea of a suspension was not played right. He should not have suspended his campaign, but gone to Washington. He should have demanded that Congress pass a clean bailout with no pork but lots of accountability. He should have stood against both the Congress and the President and opposed the final bill. He should have clearly and convincingly said that his choice to do those things was based on a rejection of the usual politics in Washington. If the bailout passed (which it would have), he should have continued to use it in every speech as a sign about how the whole system in Washington is broken.

If this had been an election about generic “change” versus substantive reform, McCain could have won. But McCain’s campaign was too orthodox to defeat the Obama juggernaut. They ran a stereotypical Republican campaign when they should have run a campaign that pit McCain as the experienced leader that would clean up Washington. McCain’s campaign executed their strategy quite well, all things considered, but their strategy was simply the wrong one at the wrong time.

Stand Up, And Keep America Strong

Today is Election Day. For weeks we’ve heard how Barack Obama is going to be the next President of the United States. Now is the time for every good man and woman in this country to take their stand. John McCain is a man of honor, wisdom, and patriotism. He nearly gave his life in service of his country, and while he isn’t perfect, he will help keep this country strong. Every Republican and conservative needs to vote today, and they need to vote for John McCain.

We know what the stakes are. We can either have a government that is responsible to us or a government that tries to be responsible for us. McCain, imperfect as he is, will fight the abuse of earmarks. He will fight government waste, tooth and nail. He will clean out the sewer of Washington D.C. and root out corruption. We need that now more than ever.

John McCain has never bowed to tyrants. He will stand up to Ahmadinejad, Chavez, and Putin. He will not flinch in supporting America’s interests abroad. He will fight al-Qaeda with vigor, and he will not give them an inch of ground in Iraq. He is the only candidate in this race who has truly fought for us. The men and women of our Armed Forces trust John McCain, and we dare not let them down.

Our economy is in crisis. We cannot have higher taxes, more intrusive regulation that benefits Democratic special interests over the common good, and a system of government that thinks it’s Robin Hood. McCain realizes that. Obama does not. Obama will take his cues for Herbert Hoover by raising taxes and engaging in economic protectionism—the very actions that made the Great Depression great. He will make the economy even worse. McCain will keep taxes low, support growth-enabling policies, and help America recover. The choice could not be more clear.

When it comes to the defense of the unborn, the choice could not be more clear. Obama is part and parcel of the abortion culture. He has failed to stand up for infant protection. He supports the judicial monstrosity of Roe v. Wade. A few misguided individuals think that Obama will support life, despite his record. They are wrong—dead wrong. McCain is absolutely solid in his support for life, and every pro-life voter should vote their conscience and vote for McCain. He is the only consistent choice on this issue.

This country does not need a cult of personality. It does not need empty promises and mindless slogans. Hope is not a plan, and change is not a direction. John McCain offers substantive reform, real policies, and a real plan for America’s future. It is time to stand up for the values that have made us a land of opportunity.

Now is the time to stand up and be counted. John McCain needs our help, and far more importantly America’s future needs our help. We must not allow this country to go in the wrong direction, and John McCain will hold the line as he has always done. It is time for him to go on one last mission on our behalf.

The Case For McCain

While every election of the last few cycles seem to be called “the most important of our time,” the 2008 election may very well be a critical election for the future of this great nation. We have two candidates: one an eloquent speaker with scant experience and the other with a lengthy history of bipartisan accomplishment. The case for McCain is straightforward: John McCain has been tested, Barack Obama has not. McCain has had to make the hard choices that a leader must, Obama has not. In an election that puts hard-edged experience versus gauzy promises of hope, Sen. McCain offers the leadership that this country desperately needs.

In a crisis, we need someone who has demonstrated leadership. John McCain has done so…

The Obama campaign continues to run against a man who is not on the ballot. There is little room for doubt that the Bush Administration in profoundly unpopular, and it has dragged the Republican Party down with it. Politically, it makes sense for the Democrats to tie McCain to Bush. But outside of the world of political spin, George W. Bush and John McCain are radically different. No one can doubt that Sen. McCain has a long record of serving his country. McCain has stood on principle, even when it has put him at odds with his own party. McCain’s life experiences as a prisoner of war—something he has rarely mentioned on the campaign trail—has shaped his view of the world in a way that few can understand. John McCain has been tested in a way that few people ever have.

Sen. McCain’s record demonstrates his commitment to “putting country first.” McCain took a stand on the issue of torture, not because it was popular or politically expedient for him to do so, but because he believed that banning it was for the good of the country. He not only opposed the Bush Administration on this issue, but he pushed them towards his views. He opposed Donald Rumsfeld’s strategy in Iraq and asked for more troops at a time when it was neither popular nor politically expedient. John McCain was right about the surge before there was a surge. He stood on principle and won. On campaign finance reform, he worked with one of the most liberal members of the Senate on crafting a bipartisan solution. Whether one agrees or disagrees with McCain-Feingold, it demonstrates that McCain has reached across party lines to get things done.

John McCain

McCain bucked his party on immigration. It nearly cost him the nomination, but he did so because he honestly believed it was the right policy. He has been a firm supporter of efforts to combat global warming—not because it was popular with his own party, but because he believed it to be in the national interest. That is the character of John McCain. Even if the misleading statistic of him voting with the President 90% of the time were an accurate measure, the whole of his record demonstrates a politician who has reached across the aisle time and time again. The fact that conservatives often vehemently disagree with some of these choices makes it plain that McCain is anything but a party loyalist.

Contrast this with Sen. Obama. Obama has no executive experience. He has never led anything larger than a law school classroom. Obama has not one significant legislative achievement to his name. He has never been seriously tested in a crisis. He has grown up in a political cocoon, and the media is unwilling to probe into his character or his fitness to serve. Barack Obama remains an unknown quantity, an empty vessel into which his supporters are pouring their own hopes. That is not what a President must be. A President must make the hard calls, he must take controversial stands, he must be willing to challenge the system for the good of the nation. We know that John McCain has done these things. We know that McCain can lead, and we know that he will work across the aisle for the good of the country, even at the risk of alienating his party. Do we really know that Obama would do so, or is a large segment of the electorate blindly hoping that he will?

This election should not be about blind hope. Those who put their faith in a politician will always be disappointed. In a crisis, we need someone who has demonstrated leadership. John McCain has done so, Barack Obama has not. We know that John McCain has made hard calls. We don’t know what Obama may do in a real crisis. We know that John McCain has reached across the aisle on multiple occasions to do what he felt is right. We’ve yet to see Obama stand on any principle that significantly departs from his comfortable liberal orthodoxy. John McCain is a known quantity. Barack Obama is a cipher.

In a time of crisis, this nation should not take chances. With the economic meltdown, rash government action could make the situation worse. Handing control of the government to one party is a recipe for disaster. The likely outcome of an Obama Administration and a Reid/Pelosi Congress would be unfettered left-wing experimentation. Our system of government works best when there are checks and balances—and the best way of ensuring that our government produces the best policies is through divided government. There is a reason why Congress’ approval ratings are so abysmal. Do we dare give them a rubber stamp in the White House? Can we truly trust that the results will be any better than when the Republicans had control of the government? Are the Democrats truly any less corrupt, any less viciously partisan, or any more competent than the Republican? The record suggests that they are at best no better, and in many cases worse.

This is the reason why Obama can never be the “transitional” figure that his supporters promise. McCain will have to work across the aisle to get anything done. Obama can embrace the same sense of partisan entitlement that led to the excesses of the Bush years. Would Obama conciliate to a weakened Republican Party? He would not need to do so, and there’s no political reason to do so. The vicious partisan divide in this country will not be healed by giving one side unchecked power—can one honestly expect Obama to “heal” the nation while at the same time pushing his agenda? There is little in Obama’s policies that suggest bipartisan compromise. Taking him at his word, he will shift this country dramatically to the left, which will only feed the cycle of partisanship that has polluted Washington.

John McCain has led. He has reached across the aisle. He has the experience to be President. His record is one of someone who has put country above party. In a time of turmoil, taking chances on an unknown quantity is not a smart policy. McCain is the right man for the job, and the right choice for the nation.

The Final Debate

The final Presidential Debate of 2008 is tonight. I won’t be liveblogging it, but may chime in with reactions at some point.

This is McCain’s last real chance to pull it out. The polls are against him, and if Virginia swings to Obama he has almost no hope of winning. He has simply got to do more that just attack Obama over his questionable associations. He has got to ask the American people to trust him. The problem is that he’s lost so much ground that he may just be unable to do much to arrest his slide.

If I were McCain, I’d essentially ignore Obama. I’d not do what the GOP pundits are doing. He has got to show that he can lead in turbulent times. He has to give the American people some real “straight talk” tonight about what we face in the next few years and why it’s so important not to go down the wrong path.

This race was always going to be a tough one for the GOP. 8 years of being tied to Bush and an arrogant Congress has left the Republican Party intellectually moribund. The Republican Party has lost its way, and while McCain is not the sort of Republican who got the party into this mess, he’s stuck with the bill. We can whine all we want about how the media has been constantly covering for Obama—and had they done their job this race might be different—those complaints are totally worthless in terms of winning.

There’s so much ground for McCain to make up that it seems impossible for him to win. Then again, that’s been said of the McCain campaign at least once in this political season. The difference is that McCain can’t count on his competitors melting down to win. He’s going to have to give the American people a reason to vote for him. If he can do that, he still has a chance. If not, an Obama Presidency will be a fait accompli.

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder gives three bullet-points to consider tonight. I expect all three will be at play in the debate.

Spinning The Second Presidential Debate

My take on this debate: McCain was strong and substantive. If he were ahead, he would have done fine. But he’s not ahead, and what he had to do is strongly take down Obama. He played it safe, which is not what he needed to do. Objectively, McCain won. In the subjective world of politics, nothing changed, which gives the political advantage to Obama.

More spin as it comes in…

Stephen Green: McCain won, but not enough to matter. Sadly, that seems right.

On Fox, Fred Barnes attacks the format of this debate. I agree. This debate was far more boring than it should have, and that’s due to poor question selection on Brokaw’s part. So far, the best debate was the Rick Warren Saddleback event, and that was not an official debate.

Jim Geraghty agrees that this was a snooze-fest. Indeed, it was.

The biggest loser? Those of us who sat through this thing…

Debate 08 Part Deux

In just a few minutes, Barack Obama and John McCain will debate in Nashville for the second Presidential debate of 2008. I won’t be liveblogging, but I’ll chime in with reactions as they come. After the debate, expect the usual spin.

This is make-or-break time for McCain. He’s down in the polls (even though the polls are tending to massively undersample Republicans). The economy is in crisis, and he needs to show he can lead in a crisis. He needs to not only hit back against Obama, but position himself as a viable alternative. That’s going to be a tough job, but if McCain wants to win he’s going to have to do well tonight.

UPDATE: McCain FINALLY goes on the offensive on the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac issue. It’s about bloody time that he hit on that. He needs to tie Obama to the corruption in Washington tonight.

McCain also needs to hit back on Obama’s outright lie that deregulation is the promise. Europe is having the same problems we are, and they are heavily regulated. More regulations will cause the next crisis rather than prevent it.

UPDATE: I thought George W. Bush could only run twice, but apparently Sen. Obama thinks he’s running against him rather than the guy actually on the stage.

McCain needs to be running against Congress. Remind the people that a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress is a recipe for disaster. Americans don’t need more bipartisanship, they need a government that stops screwing everything up.

UPDATE: McCain needs to stop talking about energy. With gas prices dropping, that’s not the issue it was. McCain needs to hit on 3 things: 1) Corruption in Washington, 2) Corruption in Washington, and 3) Corruption in Washington.

Obama is full of blather, but unless McCain hits back, Obama will get away with it. He needs to hit back, and he needs to hit hard. He’s strong on substance, but that’s not enough for him to win tonight.

UPDATE: Watching Presidential debates is sometimes excruciating for me. Granted, I was never the greatest debater in the world, but if were me up there, I’d have taken Obama to the woodshed by now… why is McCain holding back?

UPDATE: McCain finally hits Obama on taxes, comparing Obama to Hoover. McCain is being substantive tonight, and if he keeps on the offensive he can win this. He’s got an uphill battle, but he’s doing well now. Not phenomenal, and perhaps not as well as he should, but well nevertheless.

Brokaw doesn’t let Obama respond–he’s doing what a moderator should.

UPDATE: Obama’s claim that only a few small businesses make more than $250K seems wrong.

McCain did a great job of reminding the American people that Obama has no record of being a tax cutter.

And bravo to McCain for pushing nuclear power. That’s the truly “progressive” strategy for energy independence.

UPDATE: On the Obama tax plan, even a (financially) conservative estimate is that it would effect nearly 500,000 small businesses. We can’t afford to lose 500,000 more jobs in this country. We can’t afford to lose any more jobs in this country.

UPDATE: Note that in every answer, Obama says that it’s one of the biggest issues. Every answer is paint-by-numbers.

UPDATE: McCain is speaking to small business owners, which is a smart move for him. He’s actually doing a fair job of connecting with the audience, which helps him. Obama’s too-cool-for-school demeanor doesn’t play as well with this format.

McCain should watch his time, though. He’s tending to go long when being short and punchy would be to his advantage.

UPDATE: Obama: health care is a right. No, it isn’t. Unless you want to say that you have a right to the hard work of others. That kind of attitude is antithetical to the very ideas that this country was founded upon.

UPDATE: Obama repeats the same line of BS about Iraq and terrorism. One of my biggest fears about Obama is that in order to show how “tough” he is, he’ll send troops into Pakistan. If that happens, the chances of him provoking World War III is scarily high. If McCain was smart, he’d hit back hard against Obama’s fundamentally mistaken worldview.

UPDATE: Obama: “If we could have stopped Rwanda…” Actually, Senator, we could have. But the same timid Democratic foreign policy you espouse prevented us from doing anything.

UPDATE: As a public service, I’m seriously considering writing a debating manual for politicians. They need one.

McCain hits back on the surge. He’s right on that, but he needs to hit even stronger. What he needs to say is that this is about judgment. Obama does not have the right judgment, and McCain does. McCain’s problem (and Obama’s as well) is that neither knows how to frame their responses.

UPDATE: Ms. Hamm has a very astute question about Pakistani sovereignty. And Obama talks about how Iraq is somehow involved. That answer is bull. If we had never gone into Iraq, it would make no difference. Bin Laden was in Pakistan sometime around December of 2001, long before Iraq.

McCain really needs to call Obama on his B.S. Again, his lack of killer instinct is letting Obama win by default.

McCain hits Obama using Teddy Roosevelt—which is a smart move. He needs to hit on a rather critical point—PAKISTAN IS A NUCLEAR POWER.

UPDATE: If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to take out Bin Laden then we should? Which means that we should—since Pakistan has no way of doing that.

If McCain were smart, he’d ask Obama if capturing Bin Laden is worth the threat of nuclear war. I would love Bin Laden’s head on a stick, but not at the cost of a nuclear exchange over Kashmir.

UPDATE: With a few minutes left, this debate isn’t changing the game. McCain is winning on substance, but he’s not doing enough to get over Obama’s supplicant press. He needed to take down Obama a peg, and so far he’s not done it. Even though Obama is light on substance, he looks just credible enough. McCain needed to cast doubt on Obama’s capability to be President, and I just don’t think he has.

The reality remains: Obama is wrong for this country. His policies are naive at best and dangerous at worst. But McCain needed to make the case tonight, and while he gave us a glimmer of that, he just didn’t do enough.

This race could change, and McCain hasn’t hurt himself. That would be fine if McCain were ahead, but he’s not. Winning on substance tonight isn’t enough to really help McCain.

UPDATE: The retired Navy chief asks a great question, and McCain has a great response. The way he shaked his hand was a nice touch.

Again, however, McCain is strong on substance, but he just isn’t drawing the contrast between himself and Obama.

Obama’s tepid treatment of the questioner comes off as aloof to me. This format really works for McCain—but he just hasn’t been as effective as he should in using the format to his advantage.

Obama’s blathering again, but unless McCain calls him on it, he’ll get away with it. Sadly, that seems to be the story of the night.

UPDATE: Obama had a strong finish, even if the words didn’t mean a damn thing.

McCain’s also had a strong finish. What’s interesting is that only now he talks of his POW experience, and only through allusions. “I believe in this country.” He daes. I’m not sure Obama really does.

A strong finish for McCain. But again, not as strong as it could have been.

Reacting To The First McCain/Obama Debate

Here’s my take: in the economic section, Obama very narrowly won. On the foreign policy section, McCain won. In the end, the dynamics of this race won’t change. McCain didn’t do what he needed to do to take Obama out, but Obama didn’t do anything to take down McCain either. McCain had the best lines of the night, especially on talking to Iran. However, the foreign policy part of the debate was overshadowed by the economic parts, which gives the narrowest advantage to Obama.

Overall, the quick reaction from the punditocracy seems to be that McCain knocked Obama off balance. To an extent, that’s right. In retrospect, I may have to revise my opinion of this debate…

Bill Kristol thinks that McCain got under Obama’s skin. I’m going to have to watch parts of this debate on YouTube again… I saw some of that, but perhaps not liveblogging the debate caused me to miss some crucial details.

Over at The Corner, the contributors are saying that McCain won. I don’t see this as a clear win, but I could see this as a narrow McCain win.

At NRO’s Campaign Spot, some data that independents weren’t wooed by Obama. I think that Obama’s demeanor hurt him, even though he did well at the first part of the debate.

I consider Megan McArdle to be one of the most lucid Obama supporters out there. And she has a lot of good things to say about McCain tonight. That’s probably a sign that Obama didn’t win.

Another Obama supporter, Ann Althouse seems pretty harsh on Obama as well.

I think that as much as Obama “won”, he won by not totally losing. This wasn’t a game changer, but I’m starting to think that McCain probably won on points, especially looking at the reasonable Obama supporter’s reactions.

If you think that the prediction markets are any guide, then McCain won tonight, as Obama’s “share” price went down throughout the debate. Then again, Obama still retained his lead.

Frank Luntz on FoxNews and his focus groups give an edge to Obama.

In the end, McCain probably did win the debate, but Obama didn’t lose, which still gives Obama the lead. Still, remember 2004. Kerry won the debate, but ended up losing anyway. Looking back, I do think that McCain got under Obama’s skin, and it showed. There are two more debates to go, plus the Palin/Biden dustup. This race ain’t over, not by a longshot…

Liveblogging The Presidential Debate

I will be doing my customary liveblogging of tonight’s Presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi. This will be a major event in the campaign, and while the subject is ostensibly to be foreign policy, expect that the debate will be predominantly about the state of the economy. As always, analysis and reaction to the debate will follow.

UPDATE: 7:50 PM The debate will begin shortly. Right now, the conventional wisdom is that McCain is at the disadvantage. That’s probably correct, but the question remains whether that will be the case at the end of the night.

Jim Leherer of PBS is the moderator tonight.

UPDATE: 7:55 PM The economy will probably dominate this debate, even though it is supposed to be about foreign policy. The Obama people think that will help him.

UPDATE: 8:00 PM The debate is about to begin. Leherer is at his table, but the candidats have not yet taken the stage.

UPDATE: 8:02 PM Jim Lehrer is giving the ground rules. The global financial crisis will be on the agenda. The candidates are taking the stage.

UPDATE: 8:03 PM Lehrer begins by quoting Eisenhower and the first questin is on the economy. Obama is first to answer.

He’s already falling into the trap of winding up to the answer. But his main points are fairly clear. The problem is that four points is a bit much. Of course, he goes after Bush.

UPDATE: 8:05 PM McCain mentions Sen. Kennedy. Which is nice, but he needs to be stronger.

McCain’s answer is good, but it’s not as strong as it could be right now. He seems to be endorsing much of the Republican plan.

McCain’s energy is down. This doesn’t help him on the age issue.

UPDATE: 8:08 PM Neither really answered the question. Lehrer, doing a good job as moderator, calls them on it. Obama goes right back to blaming Bush. The problem is that unless McCain does something, Obama will get away with it.

McCain’s statement about foreign oil was out of place.

UPDATE: 8:10 PM McCain’s point about accounability is very good. But he needs to be making this point more forcefully.

Obama’s message is clear: Bush is at fault. What is McCain’s message? He needs to find it fast, or he’ll end up getting steamrolled.

Lehrer wants more interplay between the candidates. That would be good.

UPDATE: 8:13 PM McCain needs to be stressing his experience right now. Don’t agree, distinguish.

So far Obama is treading water, and so is McCain. That gives the advantage to Obama, however.

UPDATE: 8:14 PM McCain hits on spending. Good. He needs to hit that point strongly all night. His energy picked up when he talks about spending. He’s getting into the groove, and now he’s going on the offense. He’s doing better, but is it better enough?

UPDATE: 8:17 PM Obama hits back on taxes. And again, the comparisons with Bush.

Obama’s attack was good, but McCain’s response was good. Hitting back on spending was also a good move. The clash tonight is really picking up.

McCain needs to portray Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal. He’s close, but he needs to make the contrast clear.

UPDATE: 8:20 PM Obama is on message. McCain is also finding his message. I think that Obama has a narrow edge, but I think McCain’s message is resonating.

The problem with this whole discussion is that taxes doesn’t have much to do with the situation at hand. Lehrer should try to keep this debate more focused.

Obama’s message on tax simplification is a strong one. But it’s not as though that he’s got much credibility on cutting taxes.

UPDATE: 8:25 PM McCain finally stresses the value of his record. That helps him. He’s trying to get under Obama’s skin, which is the smart strategy.

UPDATE: 8:26 PM Lehrer gets back to the original question. Lehrer is very hands-off tonight.

His question about how to pay for the bailout is a smart one.

Obama immediately strays from the topic. He may be a lawyer, but no advocate could get away with this in an oral argument. Why don’t we have federal appellate judges moderate these debates? That would be interesting…

UPDATE: 8:28 PM McCain talks about cutting spending. He says he would eliminate ethanol subsidies. Oh well, he wasn’t going to win Iowa anyway.

Now he’s going on defense spending. This is a smart move on his part. Defense spending is out of control. He’s painting himelf as a reformer, but he could be more forceful.

Obama: I’ll spend more. McCain: I’ll spend less. Obama’s answer was a complete tangent from the question. Lehrer, to his credit, seizes on this.

Call me formal, but I don’t like this first name basis thing.

UPDATE: 8:31 PM Obama mentions the Obama-Coburn bill. Which, to his credit, was a very good bill.

Lehrer wants an answer. McCain proposes a spending freeze. That’s a good policy.

Obama wants to spend more. Lehrer is hitting him harder on this issue than McCain is.

McCain goes for nuclear power. Good for him. Very good for him. But could he be more ambitious than 2030?

UPDATE: 8:34 PM Lehrer wants a simple answer to a direct question. McCain’s spending freeze was an answer. Obama just keeps going back to how much more he wants to spend. McCain should hit back on that.

“As President, I would have to make some tough decisions…” Well, duh. That’s not an answer.

UPDATE: 8:36 PM McCain hits Obama on spending. I would have loved for him to say that government-run healthcare would be another Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Sadly, he didn’t hit on that point.

I think McCain’s anti-spending campaign will help him. Obama’s silly little lines against Bush are transparent. That’s what the Democrats want him to say, but McCain handled his response well. I don’t think that the whole McCain = Bush line works as well as they think. McCain is not Bush, and the differences are stark.

UPDATE: 8:39 PM Lehrer asks him about the lessons of Iraq. It’s a good question, and a softball for McCain. His answer is strong, even if his speaking style is not the best.

Obama’s response is predictable. The Democrats want to refight 2003 all over again. McCain needs to hit him hard on the Afghanistan issue. Can the American people trust Obama to tough it out in Afghanistan? It will be a tough fight, and Obama is opening himself up on this issue, and McCain should go after him on it.

UPDATE: 8:42 PM McCain hits him back on the surge issue. This is about judgment, and Obama’s judgment in the last two years has been wrong. Even if he was right then, that doesn’t mean that he has the judgment to lead.

Obama has to admit that the surge worked. Obama just set himself up for a smackdown by thinking that McCain supported the 2003—07 policy. He was one of the toughest critics of that strategy.

Obama’s rate of speech really increased in that last answer. That seems to be a tell with him.

So far, McCain seems to be narrowly winning this part of the debate. Selling opposition to the war now is not easy as it was two years ago.

McCain did a smart thing by tying the victory in Iraq to winning in Afghanistan. He needs to hit that harder.

UPDATE: 8:47 PM Obama wants to refight the past. He’s clearly on the defensive right now, which does not help him. However, McCain needs to hit him on the Afghanistan issue.

For all the talk about McCain’s temper, Obama seems really testy right now. McCain hasn’t walked away with this, but he comes off with more credibility here.

UPDATE: 8:50 PM The next question is about Afghanistan. Obama repeats the lie that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before th
e war. McCain should call him on it.

Obama is doing fairly well here. His pronunciation of “Pakistan” is more correct, but it seems odd for an American to use it.

McCain talks about Pakistan. He needs to remind the American people that Pakistan is a nuclear power, and we don’t have the leverage.

He hits on how we need to apply the lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan. His answer is strong here. This is a reverse of the first half hour. Now Obama is treading water. Neither candidate has won, and neither has lost. McCain needs an advantage though, and so far the dynamics of this race have not changed.

UPDATE: 8:56 PM Obama’s response is fairly strong, but completely nondescript.

McCain talks about the Lebanon issue. He’s reinforcing his judgment on the issues, but it seems out of place here. Then again, Obama hasn’t made the case here. McCain should remind the country that his son is in the military.

McCain has the gravitas advantage here.

“I’ve got a bracelet too.” Gag me with a spoon. Obama’s logic here is silly. Yes, U.S. troops will have died in vain if we leave Iraq in tatters.

McCain’s attack on Afghanistan is right: Iraq and Afghanistan are linked, and not in the way Obama says they are.

UPDATE: 9:03 PM The next question is about Iran. McCain pushes a League of Democracies. This is one of my personal favorites. That’s an interesting tactic for him to take.

McCain takes a hawkish line on Iran. That’s exactly the line he needs to take.

Both candidates confuse the Iranian Revolutionary Guards with the former Iraqi Republican Guard.

Obama’s answer is basically a “me too” to McCain. If Obama thinks that we can get sanctions through with Russia and China, he’s an idiot.

Obama goes for the “direct democracy” line. That was stupid.

UPDATE: 9:08 PM McCain goes after Obama on speaking to Ahmadinejad. McCain’s energy level on this question is high. His answer is strong here.

Obama’s response about not inviting Ahmadinejad over for tea is cute, but his logic is completely wrong. Talking without preconditions does not mean what he apparently thinks it means.

Obama is basically agreeing with McCain, but doesn’t understand that he is. McCain would not talk to Iran unless they stop threatening Israel. Obama seems to agree. That is a precondition, Sen. Obama.

UPDATE: 9:12 PM McCain gets in a good line about not having a seal yet. Nice.

McCain’s doing well here, and Obama keeps trying to interrupt. That doesn’t play well, I don’t think.

And still Obama doesn’t know what the phrase “without preconditions” means. If Obama wants to run on a platform of talking to Iran, go ahead.

McCain just had the first strong moment of the debate. Too bad he didn’t get to that earier. Could this help him? Probably not, but it could hurt Obama to a small extent. Security-minded voters already support McCain, and Obama has done nothing to change that tonight.

UPDATE: 9:17 PM The question about Russia. Obama just said he supports NATO expansion. I guess Palin’s comments in that regard aren’t so dangerous now, since Obama just endorsed the same principles.

McCain comes out swinging. His line about Putin was great. His point about energy security is a good one. I also note that he used the familiar form of the Georgian President’s name. Something that serves as a VERY subtle reminder that he knows what he’s talking about.

Watch Ukraine. Indeed.

Obama is right. There isn’t much daylight between them, which makes Obama look like a “me too” candidate. Obama hurt himself on Iran, and he’s treading water here. McCain has the advantage here, but this election won’t be decided on these issues.

Obama has a great stage presence, which isn’t surprising. But McCain is at least holding is own. So far McCain has had the strongest moment with the talking to Iran bit, but neither candidate has drawn real blood.

UPDATE: 9:24 PM McCain gets a riposte on energy, and Obama keeps interrupting. I don’t think that helps him. “I have never objected to nuclear waste.” Quoting people out of context is fun.

Final question: how likely is another 9/11? McCain has the first crack. Again, he draws the contrast between himself and Bush.

Obama keeps glowering at McCain. His presence has been strong, but that kind of thing doesn’t look good for him.

Both candidate say we’re safer, but not safe. Which is true. Obama is right about chemical plants and ports. However, suitcase nukes may not actually exist. (Although they are possible in theory.) Nuclear missiles do.

Obama talks about us being disrespected in the world. B.S. If that were true, why have pro-American leaders replaced anti-American ones across Europe?

McCain comes out swinging on Iraq again. For once, I don’t think that the anti-war side is that strong. It never is when we’re clearly winning.

UPDATE: 9:32 PM Obama accues us of being “solely focused” on Iraq. Other than where we’re not. Obama is saying what his side wants him to say, which isn’t going to resonate with security voters. He goes back to the economy, which is more solid grond for him.

We’re not talking about losing this war? Actually, Senator Obama, that’s what you would have had us do.

McCain lays it on the line, and even compares Obama to Bush in his stubbornness. That’s the kind of tactical move he should have been making all night. Again, Obama has to overcome McCain’s credibility on these issues, and he just hasn’t been able to do that. The problem for McCain is that Obama does not need to do so to keep his lead.

UPDATE: 9:35 PM Does Obama really believe that the world doesn’t see us in the same light these days? And that investing in education will fix that?

McCain gets the last word in. His push for normalizing relations with Vietnam is a great story, and he should tell it more often.

The debate is over. Reactions to follow.

What McCain Needs To Say Tonight To Defeat Obama

John McCain will attend tonight’s Presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi.

McCain has an opportunity to take Obama out, and it looks like he is going to go for it. The way he can do this is to run against the “politics as usual” in Washington. His dangerous political gambit this week can pay off for him, but only if he makes it work tonight. That is his “must-do” for this debate.

Here is what he needs to say in his own words: the American people are sick and tired of politics as usual in this country. They are sick and tired of a lack of leadership from Washington. The choice to suspend the campaign was a necessary one because partisan politics has to come second and the country has to come first.

But moreover, he needs to go on the offensive. Here is what he can do to deliver the knockout punch. Republicans won’t like this, but it will help McCain win. The argument is this: for the last eight years we have had a political culture that put politics above country. Sen. Obama’s decision to carry on his campaign while the economy was collapsing was just like President Bush sitting back while the levees collapsed in New Orleans. President Bush said “heckuva job, Brownie.” Sen. Obama has Jim Johnson, one of the architects of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disaster as his campaign advisor.

We don’t need another four years of politics first. When the country is in crisis, politicking is not the right response.

That will provoke Obama like nothing else. It may offend some Republicans, and it is somewhat unfair to President Bush. But McCain is not Bush and has to distance himself from the failures of the Bush Administration.

He can turn this whole series of events against Sen. Obama. He can make this debate a turning point. He can turn this into Obama’s Katrina, if he has the guts to do this. I know he does.

The question is will he?

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty thinks that agreeing to the debate was mistake as it undercuts McCain’s message. If a deal emerges today, perhaps not. It is a risky move, but that can be erased if McCain handles the aftermath well enough. Obama thinks he has the upper hand here, which means he’s going to go into this thing cocky. McCain needs to be able to turn that against him.

McCain’s Gambit

When I heard of McCain’s decision to “suspend” his campaign and go to D.C. to work on the bailout, I had two reactions:

  1. This is the dumbest thing a candidate could possibly do.
  2. This was a brilliant move that will help cement McCain’s “Country First” theme in a way that nothing else could.

I still don’t know which it is.

Sen. McCain may be on to something here. People are sick and tired of Washington politics. We talk about the President’s abysmal approval ratings, but Congress’ are even worse. As this nation faces the greatest economic crisis we have faced since the Great Depression, we need real political leadership in Washington.

John McCain went back to D.C. and did his duty. Barack Obama ended up having to go back to D.C. at the behest of the President, and missed an opportunity to join with McCain on this issue.

I’m leaning more towards the “politically brilliant” theory—but McCain needs to take the step of connecting this to the larger “Country First” theme of his campaign. Either as his introduction to the debate or in a major address tomorrow, he needs to state very clearly why he took the action he did. All he needs to say in essence is that his country needed a leader, and that call was far more important than playing politics. If he can get that message out, I think this will be a political win for him.

McCain acted admirably in doing what he did. Even Bill Clinton said as much. Politics aside, his actions were right because we don’t need more politicians blowing smoke up our collective asses. We need men and women willing to put the national interest above getting elected. If we had a spirit like that in Washington all along, we would not be in this crisis right now.

If this was a political move on McCain’s part, it was an incredibly gutsy move. Something tells me that it was not. This was John McCain being John McCain. If he can explain himself well and demonstrate that quality of his character in the next few days, it could go a long way towards ensuring that Sen. McCain becomes President McCain.