A Surprise Tactic McCain Should Consider: Debate Nader
John McCain has always been one to take surprising risks as a politician and as a candidate, and there is an intriguing, but very risky, suggestion for McCain that has been circulating in recent weeks. That proposition is to debate Ralph Nader. At first glance, this seems like a pointless exercise, one that could only elevate Nader and diminish McCain. But let us consider the idea carefully, and try to understand why it might constitute a viable surprise manuever.
McCain would challenge both Obama and Nader to a debate- Nader would jump at the chance for some free airtime and for someone to take him seriously. If Obama agreed to that additional debate, McCain would have already won, but Obama will again stick to the minimum of three debates. At that point, McCain simply would say that even though Obama is ducking both him and Nader, McCain is perfectly happy to have a respectful discussion on policy with a national figure like Nader.
Nader will spend the entire time attacking Obama, since his voters are the only ones Nader could potentially attract. McCain should be able to find himself in the position of defending American anti-isolationism and support for Israel, and will have an opportunity to talk forcefully on issues that matter to conservatives. The end result could very well be a bounce of a few points for Nader, at the expense of Obama. As long as McCain holds his own, he will not lose any support from having the debate.
Once Obama sees that Nader is stealing his voters, and has an opportunity to attack Obama unchallenged on national TV, he might reconsider turning down another Obama/McCain/Nader debate. And then McCain has gotten Obama to agree to an additional debate while elevating Nader.
The idea comes with risks. If McCain falters against Nader, he could seriously damage himself. The public might view the debates as the two dinosaurs arguing while Obama rises above it. And McCain may have to agree to a debate with Bob Barr, but he should have no problem handling Barr, while portraying himself as the candidate who is willing to open the national debate to a variety of voices.
If McCain finds himself needing a few more percentage points in the polls, it may be a risk he should consider taking.