10/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

John McCain's Rose Garden Strategy

He may not know how to text message, but John McCain sure can see the writing on the wall.

This morning's ABC News/The Washington Post poll gave Barack Obama a nine-point lead nationally. It was both statistically significant and the largest since both men have been made nominees. In addition, a host of state surveys came out too. Obama is looking good in electoral rich Pennsylvania, Michigan and Colorado. And perhaps most importantly, he is breaking the all-important 50% barrier.

Not only were the polls bracing for the McCain campaign, the trend lines read even worse. By a wide margin the voters consider Obama better able to handle the economy. The last time the McCain campaign played offense was "lipstick on a pig." A lot has happened since them -- none of it good for McCain. They wanted to 'get the ball back;' and when Obama made his conciliatory phone call this morning, an already vexed McCain campaign saw a chance to steal the ball.

The problems arising from this strategy are formidable. Obama made the first phone call. And when Obama did respond to McCain's suspension, he eviscerated McCain, saying he can, "deal with more than one thing at once." That could be one of the change lines in the campaign. It reinforces every negative stereotype about McCain and the Obama campaign can't be charged with, "playing the age card" since the opportunity was handed to them by McCain's own offer.

Obama gets a chance to talk about his multi-tasking abilities; calm, cool mind; and steady hand on the rudder. And because of McCain's "the fundamentals of the economy are good" line last week he looks incoherent, opportunistic and alarmist.

This suspension of this campaign for McCain holds other real risks -- most importantly, what if Obama goes to Oxford and holds an impromptu town hall meeting Friday night? It would get outrageous coverage all weekend on the 24-hour news shows, be the Sunday headlines in the paper and the buzz of the Sunday morning political shows.

The news channel debate about the suspension is whether or not it is a political stunt (see Sarah Palin). That is not what the McCain campaign wanted the debate to be. They wanted to put Obama on the defensive and it's just not working. The late night comedians are trashing him, the snap polls show the public ain't buying it, and right after saying it he did an interview with Katie Couric.

Over the next 72 hours we will see whether this risky strategy worked. But work or not, McCain knew he had to take a risk or he was headed for a double digit defeat.

The issue of the economy is not going away between now and Election Day. And if the election is about the economy, McCain loses. Clinton 1992 taught us, "It's the economy stupid." McCain should have been listening -- Barack Obama was. Americans at every level are hurting with this crappy economy and some are just plain scared to death -- in many cases rightfully so. (Ironically, George W. Bush has finally brought us together.)

When the history of this campaign is written it will go down as one of the key turning points in the campaign. This "Rose Garden Strategy" didn't work for Jimmy Carter and he was the incumbent. I don't see how it can succeed in these infinitely more cynical times. For McCain it will be seen as the beginning of the end.