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July 23, 2008

A VP Pump Fake?

posted by Will Wilson

I've seen the suggestion that John McCain's campaign fed reporters rumors that, if spliced together, implied he would select his VP this week, likely offering it to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. The campaign later dampened that speculation, though McCain is indeed meeting with Jindal today. (Jindal now says he isn't interested.)

By convincing reporters that he was about to make his pick, the thinking goes, McCain drew some attention away from Obama's world tour. He might also have had an opportunity to road test the appeal of a McCain-Jindal ticket.

If this "pump fake" was an intentional tactic--as opposed to a real change of mind or simply media speculation that got ahead of itself--it was perhaps too clever by half. Within the last 48 hours, Jindal's price more than doubled on the Intrade market for Republican VP selection, suggesting that the hard core political junkies got the message. But McCain's price has barely shifted on the Presidential market, certainly not enough to gather meaningful knowledge about the McCain-Jindal possibility. And while there was some media speculation, there was never a tidal wave of "McCain VP" news--as I write this, Obama in Jerusalem is the #2 story on Google News. So if this was a pump fake, it was marginally successful at best.

On the other hand, if misdirecting the media was an intentional tactic, it seems incredibly short-sighted and prone to backfire. It is a one-time-only tactic, lest McCain become the candidate who cried wolf. It risks burning a lot of media bridges in the process; Bob Novak, one of the reporters from whom the rumors originated, says such misdirection would be "reprehensible." It opens up the possibility that McCain's camp will have less traction with the media on future stories and spins that it wants to plant. It smacks of desperation.

For those reasons, I have a hard time believing it was a pump fake. More likely, I suppose, that any misdirection was unintentional--internal campaign musing meets media speculation and the urge to scoop. Or maybe McCain really will select his VP this week and all of this cloak-and-dagger business will appear foolish.


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