The McCain Surprise: Stupid, Brilliant … or Both??

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Nancy Shevell and Paul McCartney at the<br> Church of the Nativity.
Photo: Getty Images

Yesterday, as soon as John McCain announced his stunning decision to suspend his campaign and delay tomorrow's debate, chaos broke. Barack Obama admitted he was thrown for a loop; Congressional Democrats were befuddled. David Letterman lashed out at McCain, who had canceled his appearance on the Late Show. Nobody knew if the long-planned debate would go forward. The financial bailout negotiations were infused with new variables. Gangs of armed children roamed the streets. The list goes on. But a simple question hung in the air, and the answer still isn't immediately obvious: Could the risky gambit actually pay off for McCain? Will this work?

• John Dickerson thinks that "voters might see it as a transparent political act, or they might just hear 'McCain takes bold action in response to crisis,'" but McCain "needed to do something." [Slate]

• Harold Meyerson doubts that McCain can succeed in "refocusing [the public's] attention on his decisiveness at this moment of crisis." His "ploy was transparent" and shows he thinks "that the nation's crises are primarily about him." [WP]

• Craig Crawford says that, like a trial lawyer, McCain is "pound[ing] the table" and resorting to "theatrics" when everything else has failed. And, as with lawyers, it "might work." [CQ Politics]

• Joan Walsh calls it "bad politics," since "a foreign-policy debate was the only hope McCain had for taking back momentum." And "Americans will see it for what it is, a political stunt." [Salon]

• Noam Scheiber calls it "a completely preposterous move that's highly unlikely to work." McCain is "basically conceding he hasn't been" maintaining his job as a senator "for the last year-and-a-half," "which could rub a lot of people the wrong way." [Stump/New Republic]

• Lisa Schiffren concedes "there is a bit of gimmick to McCain's behavior," since suspending the campaign or pulling ads was unnecessary. But if it "manages to forge some kind of plan," it'll make for "great ads highlighting the manifest demonstration of leadership." [Corner/National Review]

• Andrew Romano writes that the immediate benefits of the move are that it "presents [McCain] as a bipartisan leader," it "puts Obama on the defensive" and "shifts the media narrative onto favorable terrain and dominates the news." Whether "voters find his decision to 'take action' compelling — even though he doesn't sit on any of the relevant committees," we'll have to wait and see. [Stumper/Newsweek]

• Jonathan Chait wonders "if an impression is hardening that McCain is too much of a risk-taker to be trusted as president." [Plank/New Republic]

• Mickey Kaus concurs that McCain has shown himself to be a "drama queen" and suspects "a McCain presidency would be a bit exhausting." [Kausfiles/Slate]

• Byron York doesn't agree with McCain's call to postpone the debate but thinks the politics "may work to his advantage." The key may be that "as long as it isn't perceived as gimmicky, people will like the anti-politics-as-usual feel of McCain 'suspending' his campaign." [Corner/National Review]

• Josh Marshall claims it's "like the biggest 'dog ate my homework' in history." [TPM]

• Jay Newton-Small says the move is "a huge risk" that could either "turn the page for McCain on the economy ... or it could paint him the cynic willing to do anything to be elected." [Swampland/Time]

• Megan McArdle contends the move was both "dumb," as we did not need McCain's "exquisite financial acumen to help shepherd us through this," and also "politically brilliant," which is why Democrats are mad. [Atlantic]

• Dave Weigel isn't sure "[h]ow this plays to Joe Dorito and Jane Six-Pack," but all McCain is offering is a "crazy political curveball and a promise to pass whatever the senators who know what they're doing come up with." [Hit & Run/Reason]

• Joe Klein says "it seems [like] another Hail Mary (like the feckless selection of Palin) to try make McCain seem a statesman, which is difficult given the puerile tenor of his campaign's message operation." [Swampland/Time]

• James Fallows wonders if this is the "worst self-inflicted campaign move ever," especially since the "most famously stoic candidate of recent times is willing to have it look as if he's running away from a confrontation while he's behind." [Atlantic]

• William Kristol thinks McCain's move could be pivotal because the winner of this election "may be the one who can convince some portion of the electorate that he's less 'senatorial,' and more 'presidential,' than the other." [Weekly Standard]

• Alex Koppelman is skeptical that the ploy will work because it's "being seen, in all quarters, as a pretty nakedly political move." But it still may be "the type of play McCain needed to make, even at the risk of failure." [War Room/Salon]

Related: Robert Reich and Ben Smith on McCain ‘Suspending’ the Campaign and the Exact Chances of Worldwide Financial Meltdown
In Shadow of McCain and Bush Gimmicks, Congress Nearing Deal on Bailout

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.