Just finished watching the first Presidential debate a couple of hours ago. McCain needed to deliver a knock-out blow and, unfortunately, failed to do so. Each candidate held his own ground firmly and came across as “Presidential”. Neither screwed up. It was a tie. But, given McCain’s current position in the polls and the fact the next debate is on economic policy, McCain needed a win.
McCain went into this debate on his back foot. He has two cannon balls chained round his neck, one marked “Bush” and other “Economic Crisis”. On both issues, just by virtue of being a Democrat, his opponent has a natural advantage. McCains pussy-footing earlier this week with “I’m not going to attend the debate because I’m needed in DC” didn’t help him either. But given that the debate topic (foreign policy) was on McCain’s turf, he should have done better.
Clearly, the moderator had to start with a question on the financial crisis. It was favoured ground for Obama, but he failed to deliver a blow. On Iran, both were pretty much in agreement. On Russia, they were as hawkish as each other. When asked about the risks of another 9/11 type attack on the US, Obama talked a lot about rebuilding the US brand abroad – it was a good point that McCain would have done well to push too.
The only thing they really disagreed on was Iraq, where all the familiar points about judgement were re-cycled. No blows.
On style, both came across well enough. McCain was more passionate, but Obama had improved his style to come across less like a university professor but using fewer and easier words. I did notice that, when talking directly to Obama, McCain did not look at Obama once – not sure why, and think he would have done better to do so.
It was notable how many times McCain said “you don’t understand” to Obama. Not sure how this will come across – will it help the Obama is inexperienced argument, or make McCain look like a lecturing granddaddy? Equally notable was how many times Obama said “John is right” – will it make Obama look like he’s a listener and bi-partisan, or confirm that McCain has better judgement?
In one of my recent posts (McCain can Win, Despite Palin) I articulated why I thought the Presidential debates were more crucial than ever. McCain didn’t succeed in winning this one, making the next even more critical.
In another post (McCain’s Huge, Unnecessary Gamble) I argued that the Palin selection was bad judgement. In know many of you disagreed and I wished you were right. I am now even more convinced that she was a mistake. Many Conservatives that originally supported her are now rapidly and decisively changing their minds. In her article on National Review Online yesterday (“Palin Problem”), Kathleen Parker concludes: “She’s out of her league.... Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first. Do it for your country.”
Clearly is too late for Palin to bow out, but McCain in private needs to recognise his mistake in selecting Palin and do what he can to neutralise it. Tonight’s debate won’t do that, but he’s still got time (just about).