05/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Steve Schmidt, McCain Campaign Manager: 'When Lehman Collapsed...The Campaign Was Finished'

Ben Smith reports on a joint appearance by opposing campaign gurus Steve Schmidt and David Plouffe, who gave the students of the University of Delaware a bit of a debrief of Campaign 2008. Schmidt offered up many candid observations of the race run by John McCain, one of the most interesting being the moment when he came to believe that winning was impossible:

Schmidt returned again and again to the notion that McCain's defeat was essentially pre-ordained, a comfortable belief that's now widely held among McCain's former aides, and was fairly common among them even during the final weeks of the campaign.

"We were running a campaign under extra difficult circumstances - the state of the Republican party, the president's unpopularity, the economy - a lot of issues that were not John McCain's fault but were John McCain's problem in this race," Schmidt said. "When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall I knew pretty much right away that ... from an electoral strategy perspective, the campaign was finished," he said.

Few would question the idea that the financial crisis in which the nation became engulfed last fall fundamentally altered the dynamics of the race. Still, Lehman's stock price collapsed on September 9, and steadily eroded until September 15, when the firm filed for bankruptcy. And worse stuff was on the way. And yet the McCain campaign made a decision on September 24 to suspend their campaign so that John McCain could focus on the financial crisis. Except that John McCain really didn't do much suspending or much focusing. Beyond the melodrama of the announcement, which sent the media into a breathless paroxysm, the practical result of this "suspension" was trading a photo-op with David Letterman for a photo-op with President George W. Bush.

Perhaps the suspension was the attempt at "throwing a football through a tire at 50 yards," that Schmidt describes. And maybe that was the moment the loss was "ordained." I think, though, that it's fair to wonder if that whole campaign episode was a wise decision. Speaking only for myself, that was the moment I ceased to take the notion of John McCain being sensible in a crisis very seriously.

That whole being mad at Spain thing didn't help much, either.

[hat tip: Media Monitor Steve m.]

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