The first Presidential debate was held in Mississippi on Friday night. The first forty minutes of the debate were devoted to questions on the financial meltdown of the domestic economy and the remainder of the debate was focused on foreign policy.
The near universal opinion in the community of political analysis was that Barack Obama had the slight edge on the questions concerning the domestic economy and that John McCain had the advantage in the debate on foreign policy.
The conclusion of political observers was that there were no major gaffes by either candidate and no real soundbites that would be played by the media for days after the debate.
While Obama gave scripted and polished answers, McCain displayed his extensive experience in foreign policy. Most political pundits thought that the outcome of the debate was a draw.
While all of this the may be true if you were scoring each and every question, it overlooks one important political point. John McCain never explained the reason behind the suspension of his Presidential campaign last week. Why was it necessary? What did he do? What result was achieved? He has never answered these very basic questions.
The truth is that the opening question of the debate was the perfect opportunity for McCain to tell the American public why it was so important for him to suspend his campaign last week and return to Washington D.C. . It is hard to understand why he did not.
The Democrats have been calling his suspended campaign a political stunt for days. Barack Obama had implied that the insertion of Presidential politics was not helpful to the entire bailout package process. Those charges were left completely unanswered by the Republican during last Friday nights debate.
Political mistakes do not have to be major television gaffes. They do not have to take the form of media soundbites. Often, it is the opportunity lost that is the real mistake. For John Mccain, the first Presidential debate was an opportunity lost on the question of his leadership during this financial crisis.
This is a difficult political environment for a Republican candidate. A financial meltdown, a struggling economy, an unpopular sitting President, the war in Iraq, and problems in Afghanistan are not a formula for success if you are the Presidential nominee of the political party in power. It is not an environment that will easily forgive self-inflicted campaign mistakes.
The real story of the first Presidential debate is that John McCain did not explain his suspended campaign. It was a political mistake and it will do nothing to stop his slow but steady erosion in national public opinion polls.