Let's look at what the last two weeks have wrought upon McCain's campaign...
First you had the banking meltdown and McCain's typically erratic response to the crisis: first blaming it on Obama, then saying that were he President that "heads would roll" and he would fire the SEC chairman (which the President cannot even do), then engaging in a game of chicken with Obama by threatening to skip Friday's debate to do the work of the country- a move that was seen by all but the most partisan of observers as a nakedly political maneuver. This mistake was compounded by his canceling on David Letterman and then lying to him about why (claiming to be headed back to Washington, when all the while he was doing an interview with Katie Couric and the next day participating in the Clinton Global Initiative.)
Palin, in the meantime, remains virtually sequestered, and the media is getting angrier and angrier at not being able to subject her to the requisite scrutiny to which they have subjected McCain, Obama and Biden. This may be the lesser problem for McCain, as Palin's performance with Katie Couric was no less embarrassing than her performance with Charlie Gibson.
This was all capped off by a foreign policy debate between McCain and Obama in which a wide range of polling from many media outlets indicated that voters felt Obama emerged victorious. (If even Fox News is admitting it...) This is a body blow to the McCain campaign as, rightly or wrongly, he had previously been viewed as being stronger on foreign policy. But that all went out the window when Obama proved he could play on McCain's home turf and look more Presidential than the clench-jawed, smirking McCain who couldn't contain his contempt for the young Senator for whom has has harbored a deep personal dislike since the day he arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed in Washington.
Obama is polling anywhere from 2 to 10 points ahead in the national polls, consistently in double digits on the issue of the economy, and making gains in key battleground states. Even more foreboding is how the conservative punditocracy continues to turn not only on Palin (Kathleen Parker even called for her to withdraw), but in the case of conservative heavyweight George Will, even on McCain himself.
All in all, two weeks that were nothing short of disastrous for the McCampaign, and about the only answer they seem to have is to blame any media member or outlet who is not on board as part of some vast left wing conspiracy... despite the fact that McCain was once a darling of this same media.
So what is McCain's normal response to being backed into a corner?
He is a craps player... literally and figuratively. So he will try a wild and unpredictable move to change the story and move the game. That's what he did with this debate stunt this week. It's also what he did with the Palin selection- a craps equivalent of putting all your chips on 4. Sure, it will pay off 9-to-5 if you hit, but it's also the least likely number to come up. McCain went "all in" on a high-risk, high-reward play, and it's now very close to "7-out" and the dealer is reaching for his chips. Palin may have briefly energized the radical conservative base and religious right, but the hull of his ship on the moderate (responsible? rational?) side was punctured by an iceberg and Leonardo and Kate are trying to find a way off.
There is one play that might accomplish what McCain must in order to stay in the game, and it's a play he literally has to make within the next 96 hours:
Would dumping Palin from the ticket (presumably to replace her with Mitt Romney) open McCain up to the judgment questions that he has managed to sidestep thus far? Perhaps, but with the flood that is the Palin backlash overflowing the riverbanks and headed for town, it might be safe to say that horse has pretty well left the barn. The McCain campaign is currently bleeding out and they need to apply a tourniquet. McCain can spin this as "Country First" - I made a mistake, but I am accountable for my mistakes and I fix them no matter how it makes me look. He may not win a lot of people back with that line, but he might prevent further hemorrhaging of the sort that is pointing towards an Obama landslide.
McCain can't allow Palin to withdraw for a contrived personal reason, either, as Parker suggests. He can't appear to have continued to back her when even she knew she was out of her league. He must be the decider.
Such a maneuver also fulfills two other strategic objectives:
It puts an end to the Palin-Biden debate, which- if Palin's performance with Gibson and Couric is any indication- may turn out to be the final nail in the McCoffin. Biden is an acknowledged policy wonk and he's outstanding in a short answer debate format. While in the Presidential race himself, he consistently outperformed both Obama and Clinton. Palin facing Biden on this stage is like a high school tennis player facing off with Roger Federer. She's going to be lucky to win a point, let alone a game, a set, or the match. If McCain can't even trust Palin to campaign on her own without him or face the media on a daily basis (let alone the Sunday shows), they have to know right now they can't let her take the stage with Joe Biden. But if you pluck Mitt Romney off the bench and put him in the game, he can battle with Biden on issues from a much broader and deeper pool of knowledge than the inflatable backyard variety in which Palin is currently splashing around.
The other thing this would do is throw the Democrats a curveball. Biden has been preparing for this debate with Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm playing Palin on the scout team. Subbing in Romney would be an equalizer on the preparation front.
Dumping Palin is the only move that makes sense, fits with McCain's M.O. , and provides him anything to even attempt to spin. Even if Palin were to somehow find some semblance of a game right now, it may not even matter because so much of the country has already concluded she's the proverbial knife in a gunfight.
Unless McCain has actually accepted that he's cooked, this is the only play that makes sense.
I'm putting my chips on it.