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We know John McCain likes to gamble (craps is his preferred game). And we know when he's losing, because he always does something unsettling to, as Richard Wolffe put it 'upset the chessboard'.

When Obama nailed his acceptance speech, McCain sensed an impending loss and went for the Hail Mary with Sarah Quayle Palin. We said at the time it would prove to be a disaster for McCain in the long run, and we were right. All the polls not only show her popularity dropping (below Obama's and below McCain's), they also show majorities and pluralities coming to the conclusion she is not qualified to be President. That drag on the top of the ticket was not a 'game-changer', and how much of a drag is only now becoming clear to the talking heads.

Similarly, McCain sensed he was going to lose this election because of his own statements about not being an economics expert, that the 'fundamentals were strong' on a day the market was tanking, on association with Phil (Americans are a bunch of whiners) Gramm and other economic advisors who so clearly had only disdain for ordinary Americans, and on general anger at this administration for getting us into this mess. Given that, and his poor poll performance, he went to the well to rail against the librul media for not being campaign stenographers, and when that didn't work, he tried to suspend his campaign and cancel both his and Palin's debate as if it weren't important for the American people to see the candidates side by side.

In fact, all he accomplished is to make Obama look Presidential, and himself and his sycophants look panicked. Americans don't want an unsure hand at the wheel as President, and his outbursts (fire someone, inject presidential politics into the work of Congress) are hardly reassuring as a measure of Presidential temperament.

In the meantime, the media is getting out of the habit of rewarding bad behavior by crediting McCain with desperation in the form "boldness". That is not something that wears well over time. Still, media people have to get their heads straight about what matters.

McCain's campaign has been remarkable in its ability to -- in the words of NBCs Tom Brokaw -- engage in guerilla political tactics, which allow him to win political battles that on paper he shouldn't be winning. And this debate gambit is the latest example of this (following his town hall challenge the day after Obama clinched the Dem nomination, and even his pick of Sarah Palin). But while McCain has proven adept at winning these battles, can he ultimately win the war?

What matters is the war, not the battles. McCain's tactics have completely eroded his brand as an honorable campaigner. There is no getting that back. That means when McCain in retrospect lies about how important he was to the Congressional bailout process, it won't stick. he's full of these gimmicks, and everyone knows it (see David Letterman, see the View). By the way, if media wants to claim that McCain 'had to do this' because he was losing, then they owe us the honesty of telling us he was losing. Funnily enough, they never do that part. No matter. We do.

Bottom line: this not a guy we want anywhere near the WH when it matters. And if you want to know why, just watch what happens and how McCain acts when he's losing. It's not pretty.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Sep 25, 2008 at 09:40 AM PDT.

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