WASHINGTON – John McCain should have seen this one coming.
The Republican presidential candidate suspended his campaign and dramatically announced he was going to Washington to help hammer out a $700 billion bailout to save the U.S. economy.
Then he called to cancel with David Letterman. At the last minute. Leaving the wickedly funny late night comic with blank airtime to fill. Probably not the smartest move.
“Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, was supposed to be on the program tonight,” Letterman said in an opening volley. “But had to cancel the show because he’s suspending his campaign because the economy is exploding.”
“You know who John McCain is,” he added to laughter from his live audience. “He’s the running mate of Sarah Palin, you’re aware of that?”
And that was just the start. Letterman wasn’t about to let it go. After heaping praise on McCain as an American hero, it was right back to the cancellation.
“When you call up and you call up at the last minute and you cancel a show, ladies and gentlemen, that’s starting to smell,” Letterman said. “This, this is not the John McCain I know, by God. It makes me believe something’s gone haywire with the campaign.”
“This just doesn’t smell right because this is not the way a tested hero behaves. Somebody’s putting something in his Metamucil,” he said.
A presidential candidate doesn’t just suspend the campaign, Letterman insisted.
“You go back to Washington. You handle what you need to handle. Don’t suspend your campaign. Let your campaign go on, shouldered by your vice presidential nominee, that’s what you do. You don’t quit,” Letterman said, pausing to let his audience mull over the idea of McCain letting the little-experienced Alaska governor take over the campaign.
“Or is that really a good thing to do?” Letterman asked.
The jibes kept coming. McCain’s age — at 72 he’ll be the oldest president to start a first term in office — and Palin’s inexperience.
He reacted with mock astonishment when he discovered McCain had not raced back to Washington but was instead being interviewed for the CBS evening newscast with Katie Couric. Letterman watched a live TV feed from the studio as McCain’s face was patted with makeup.
“Doesn’t seem to be racing to the airport, does he?”
“Hey John, I got a question. You need a ride to the airport?”
Photo credit: Reuters/Molly Riley (McCain at U.S. Capitol on Thursday after returning to Washington for talks on U.S. financial crisis)