John McCain's Sorry Last Stand
While McCain did score some belated points on the economy and occasionally had Barack Obama on the defensive, he failed miserably where it matter most and least: He succumbed to the taunts of running mate Sarah Palin and his red-meat supporters in slamming Obama for his long-ago association with Bill Ayers and other phony character issues that he had been chastised for avoiding in previous face-to-face encounters.
And so the ever impetuous McCain ignored the tsunami of polls showing that the biggest reason that he is trailing Obama so badly is that the negative campaigning of he and Palin have blown up in their faces. This, of course, is because voters are deeply worried about their own well being and don't give a hoot about whether Obama knew a one-time radical 10 years ago or supported a controversial community organizing group that McCain himself has embraced.
The split-screen shots of the two candidates were devastating: McCain grimacing and agitated and Obama his usual smiling ease. And while the ability to debate effectively does not translate into being an effective president, there were several occasions last night when one could sense that Obama knew that McCain was about to fall into a trap -- his boner on late-term abortions chief among them -- and Obama could leap on him.
And leap he did.
Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots:"
After giving up Joe Lieberman as a running mate in favor of Mrs. Joe Sixpack, John McCain brought out Joe the Plumber for tonight's debate -- to no avail. The networks' instant polling shows a third straight loss for the Republican's attempt to sell himself as the champion of the average Joe.Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post:
"The candidates squared off after a day of dismal economic news--another stock-market plunge, retail sales down, factory orders at historic lows--and the best John McCain could do was jibe that, if Obama wanted to run against the Bush Administration, he should have done so four years ago."
"McCain did not score the knockout blow that many Republicans had hoped but he did land several solid body shots — the best of which was his repudiation of Obama’s contention that he represented four more years of President George W. Bush.Erick Erickson at Red State:
"Obama, well aware of his lead in state and national polls, refused to be flustered by McCain and instead brought nearly every question he was asked back to the economy and the struggles of average middle class families. Obama wasn’t particularly dynamic, but he didn’t have to be."
"Tonight we finally saw what so many of us have been waiting for. John McCain mopped the floor with Barack Obama.
"Throughout the night, Barack Obama looked distant, like he did not want to be there, like he was annoyed. He really looked annoyed all night.
"McCain on the other hand looked like the comeback kid — the guy who knew he had to do well. And he did."
Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:
"[T]onight, we saw a McXplosion. Every single attack that Sen. McCain has ever wanted to make, he took the opportunity tonight to make. Around 30 minutes in, McCain seemed to surrender the debate to his frustrations, making it seem as if he just wanted the free television.
"His substance suffered; it didn’t make sense at times. He seemed personally offended by negative ads; he tried to make a point about Obama's character, but all the sleight were those Obama allegedly inflicted on Obama: the town halls, campaign finance, negative ads, etc. He allowed himself to get caught up in his own grievances. It was just plain unattractive on television. He moved quickly from William Ayers to taxes without a transition. From Obama's opposition to trade agreements to taxes. No intermediate steps. Blizzards of words without unifying strings.
Dick Polman at American Debate:
Nicole Bell at Crooks and Liars:
"It was approximately 9:54 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, on the 15th of October, when John McCain set fire to his hair and took a hammer to his fading candidacy, smashing it to smithereens.
"Until that moment in the final presidential debate, he had actually performed fairly well. He had played offense against Barack Obama without being offensive; in other words, he had basically hewed to the issues. . . .
"But then, as the hour neared 10 p.m., his simmering cup runneth over. He took the bait. And he probably lost this election.
It happened shortly after moderator Bob Schieffer dangled Bill Ayres in front of McCain. Schieffer told him, 'You''re running mate said (that Obama) palled around with terrorists,' and invited McCain to say it to Obama's face. For a couple minutes there, it appeared that McCain would let the matter rest, that he would not waste the viewer's time playing guilt-by-association. That would have been the smart move. . . . So he took the plunge: 'I don't care about an old, washed-up terrorist. But . . . we need to know the full extent of that relationship.' Whereupon Obama, who knew this moment was coming, proceeded to take McCain apart."
"Clearly, in all his debate prep, no one thought to coach McCain not to go to the third rail of the abortion issue. Boy, was that an oversight. Because not only did McCain go there, he jumped right on to it.Marty Kaplan at The Huffington Post:
"In trying to paint Obama as being for the great Republican bugaboo of late term abortions (because, you know, there are so many women running around and deciding after being pregnant for six or more months that being pregnant is no longer convenient for them), Obama replied that he didn’t vote for the late term abortion ban because it had no provision for the health or life of the mother. And that’s when McCain proved how heartless and clueless he is."
David Corn at MoJo Blog:
"Man, those relentless close-ups were cruel. And the split screen was killer. If you only heard the debate on the radio, you missed the show of the century.
"Ninety minutes of John McCain making faces was more than enough for a lifetime. He smirked. He grimaced. He sneered. He fake-smiled. It’s hard to imagine anyone willingly inviting that antic lemon-sucking grinfest into their homes for the next four years.
"His face was a way better read-out of how the debate was going than the CNN seismograph of independents.
" . . . At least he didn’t wink."
"A political campaign can be like a rock slide. At some point, it's just going to continue in the direction it's heading--and not much can stop it. After the final debate between Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, it may well be that the 2008 presidential contest has reached not the tipping point, but that rock slide point. . . .BooMan at the Booman Tribune:
"It sure is not an encouraging sign for a candidate when he does his best in a debate and the insta-polls indicate that he was crushed. Following this debate, Obama will continue to stride along--being reassuring, if even boring. And for McCain, there does not appear to be any obvious path. After all, he's not behind the wheel. For the next three weeks, he's stuck in the passenger seat. And see that sign? Caution: falling rocks."
"John McCain lost because he acted like an asshole. Provoking him into being an asshole was the most surefire way to win this debate. And we did it with an assist from his running mate, who is truly a moron of Grand Canyon proportions.
"John McCain didn't just lose this debate. He was crushed. He was literally knocked out. He fell into a trap that we telegraphed for him all day. Please, please, please, attack Obama, we said. We weren't kidding. We desperately wanted him to attack Obama as often and as harshly as possible. We knew that it would further alienate the very few undecided voters and also lead to a post-debate massacre in the media. . . .
"Plus, the Phillies won the pennant. Bring on Tampa Bay!!"