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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Maybe I’m grossly misreading this, but I don’t think McCain’s decision to “suspend” his campaign today self-evidently looks Presidential. It could look Presidential, or it could look like a stunt. Meaning, the way the decision is narrated by the media matters. And when you’ve lost Kathryn Lopez and David Letterman on the same day, things haven’t gone quite to plan.

But really, McCain’s problems have nothing to do with returning to Washington for a couple of days and calling on Barack Obama to do the same. That could have been a smart little ploy. Rather, the problem was quite specifically his call to postpone Friday’s debate.

Let me digress for a moment. One of the reasons I probably turned out to be a Democrat is because of Ronald Reagan and Bugs Bunny. When I was a kid, once every now and then, they had Bugs Bunny specials scheduled for prime time … I looked forward to these for weeks. But invariably, invariably! — or so it seemed when I was six years old — they’d be preempted by Ronald Reagan giving a speech. I was sure what Mr. Reagan was saying was very important … but I absolutely hated him as a result.

Americans feel about the debates they way I felt about Bugs Bunny. The cumulative audience between the three Presidential debates will likely significantly exceed that of the Super Bowl. They like watching them, and look forward to them. If McCain denies them that pleasure, they are likely to be angry with him, perhaps in ways they have difficulty expressing.

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Imagine instead if McCain had called on Obama to return to Washington, and also called on him to meet him at Georgetown University on Friday night for a “civil discussion” (a.k.a. a High Noon showdown) on leading America’s economy forward. That could have been brilliant. Obama would probably have had to agree to the change of venue and subject matter. McCain would have needed to follow-through by actually winning the debate, but if he had, that would almost certainly have been a game-changer. But that’s not what McCain did.

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