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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Move and Counter-Move

The political world is afire right now with reaction to John McCain’s announcement that he was “suspending” his campaign in order to return to Washington and participate in negotiations over the Paulson Plan. And oh, by the way, McCain also called for delaying Friday’s first presidential candidates’ debate.
But according to the most accounts, today’s surprises reallly began with Obama contacting McCain this morning to propose a joint “statement of principles” on the bailout.
If I had to guess, McCain’s “dramatic” announcement was intended to steal Obama’s thunder in showing willingness to pursue a joint-candidate approach to the crisis. Since both candidates are senators, and would be leaving the campaign trail to vote on a bailout plan anyway, the practical effect of the McCain announcement would seem to be to inject the candidates directly into the negotiation process. McCain may also be trying to place himself at the head of the parade by taking credit for Republican concessions (e.g., on executive pay) that are already happening. The effort to get the debate delayed, at a time when foreign policy discussions might seem an irritating diversion, was probably just gravy to Team McCain.
The bigger mystery to me is the original Obama gambit. It’s unclear whether it was offered in expectation of a “no” answer, or inversely, to ensure that McCain didn’t find a way to separate himself from a bailout plan that might prove to be very unpopular. And none of us at this moment knows that a joint “statement of principles” might look like.
In any event, McCain seems to be getting the lion’s share of attention for his public counter-move to Obama’s original move. Whether that ultimately helps or hurts hiim remains to be seen.

3 comments on “Move and Counter-Move

  1. Robert Miller on

    My original thought was the same as AdamH’s: that Obama’s call was an honest attempt to do something post-partisan for the good for the country.
    But my cynical, strategic side took over. Two benefits of a joint statement would be 1) that Obama could get a gauge on how much McCain was willing to publicly commit to in order to address the problem, and 2) to actually get him to commit to it, so if there is a later voter revolt about some aspect of it, McCain would not be able to position himself as having been opposed to it.
    As it turned out, the answer to 1) was: not much at all, so the answer to 2) was moot.
    Incidentally, Obama’s response to McCain’s “campaign suspension,” that presidents should be able to handle more than one thing at a time, was good. I would suggest he also play up the hardship the debate cancellation will cause the University of Mississippi (reports say $5.5 million). That, combined with YouTube videos of Letterman’s fury at McCain’s last-minute cancellation, can help establish today’s storyline.

  2. AdamH on

    I hope Obama’s response to McCain’s stunt is to ask why he feels the debate must be cancelled and say that he thinks it’s a great opportunity to talk to the American people about what they plan to do and show leadership on this crisis. The capper would be Obama recommending that the subject of the debate be changed from foreign policy to the economy and the crisis. What’s McCain’s response then?
    Maybe I’m just a starry-eyed liberal but I don’t believe that the morning Obama move was a gambit at all. It sounded like a good faith attempt by an adult politician to do something for the good of the country. It is a sad commentary on the current state of affairs that everything must be seen as a gambit first.

  3. ThinkingGuy on

    Judging by the media behavior in the Palin mess, is will help. Just as soon as Obama was starting to lead in the polls, this thing comes and blows it.


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