So I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to feel compelled to make a few more of these process based political posts. Again, I won't comment on the candidates, their views or my political opinions. My interest is only in the strategic decisions and the lessons we all can learn from them.
That said, this makes such a powerful point that I just couldn't pass it up.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain jolted the 2008 race Wednesday by saying he’d suspend his campaign and come to the Capitol to help pass a bill to rescue the nation’s financial sector.
He also called for a postponement of the debate with his Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama, set for Friday night.
First, lets look at what McCain hopes to accomplish. For the non-cynical among you this might be hard to hear but McCain isn't actually trying to help the bailout bill.
Realistically speaking no one person is going to make that big a difference in a discussion and especially not one who is knee deep in a partisan political election. His being at the bargaining table on this bill only makes the thing harder to pass.
What he's trying to do is to set himself up to take credit for the bill. The theory is that he makes a grand gesture (stopping his campaign) and rushes to Washington to presumably "help the process." The bill then passes (because some form of it has to) and he gets credit for pushing the bailout through which would be great PR and would push him to victory in November.
The problem with that theory is that its contingent on every Democrat in congress being stupid enough to not realize what he's doing.
Lets look at this situation realistically now. The other people in congress aren't idiots (at least, not in regards to politics). They all know what McCain is doing and the Democrats know they can't allow him to succeed. They'd be handing him the election. So by suspending his campaign McCain has basically torpedoed the bailout bill.
It is literally a game of chicken because the Democratic majority in Congress does not want to give McCain a win and will stall for as long as it takes to prevent that from happening.
So what now happens is that they stall and this backfires on McCain. Because with no bill passing he either has to (a) eat his words and return to campaigning or (b) not campaign for the last half of the election. Since "(b)" isn't really an option McCain has basically set himself up for a guaranteed fall.
The point of this post, which I feel is so important, is how badly you can screw up when you choose to underestimate your opponents. McCain seems to think a bunch of career politicians won't realize he's playing politics and that's just stupid. So stupid, that it very well might cost him the election and you can't screw up any worse than that.
Addendum: To the people sending me this link, Please stop.
It doesn't change anything. The question I was addressing above was McCain's decision to suspend his campaign. That decision was purely strategic.
The link indicates McCain was asked to "give political cover" to Republicans by endorsing the Bailout Bill. That's something McCain could easily do on the campaign trail. Endorsing the bill does not require McCain to suspend his campaign and is therefore not relevant to the strategic decision being made.
2nd Addendum: It's days like this that make it hard for me to ignore politics completely because the strategy and "one-upmanship" is so fascinating. This morning McCain made this statement
"I'm an old Navy pilot and I know when a crisis calls for all hands on deck. I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand, which it clearly is not."
No more than a few hours later Sen. Dodd, Democrat and head of the Senate Banking Committee, released a statement saying they'd reached an agreement on the "Fundamental Principles" of the bailout.
That's hours before McCain got a chance to even have his meeting with the President (and is almost surely an attempt to make McCain look like an unnecessary reactionary). Worse yet for McCain (and really suprising to me) was the quote from Bob Bennett (a Republican on the Banking Committee) who said "We focused on solving the problem rather than posturing politically." That's a clear dig at McCain and I don't see any political strategy in it. I think he was just annoyed at McCain for claiming their committee couldn't handle the situation (which is yet another reason why this was stupid on McCain's part)
Final Addendum: Sorry, I couldn't resist this one last update. Apparently the bailout agreement is unraveling. I'm sorry but this is just politics at its best. Look at this from a political strategy angle. The Democrats dealed so they could announce an agreement before McCain's big meeting (making his "campaign suspension" look like histrionics) and now they're pulling back after the meeting (making it look like McCain's intervention did more harm than good). In addition to that McCain's still stalled so now he has to either skip the debate tomorrow (which everyone and their brother will now be watching) or eat his own words and resume his campaign with no bailout bill in place. This is a disaster and McCain brought it all on himself.