Three McCain lines from tonight's debate that explain why no one will ever call Steve Schmidt "the Genius":
* Americans' workers are the best in the world. They're the fundamental aspect of America's economy.
McCain just can't get over having been embarrassed by the "fundamentals of the economy are strong" debacle, and he keeps wanting to say that what he really meant was that American workers are good. But it just doesn't work. Why doesn't Schmidt -- or someone -- explain this to McCain and get him to retire this line?
* You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say walk softly -- talk softly, but carry a big stick. Sen. Obama likes to talk loudly.
McCain, bafflingly, loves attacking Obama for having said he'd go after Al Qaeda across the Pakistan border. That's a good idea -- attacking Obama for actually wanting to get bin Laden? Not working either. And nobody buys the notion that saying you want to kill an enemy is the same as "telegraphing your punches."
* Now, long ago, I warned about Vladimir Putin. I said I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G and a B.
Bloody hell, the KGB was disbanded thirteen years ago. It's ancient history for voters under the age of 35. And it doesn't strike fear if you're also telling people there isn't going to be another Cold War. Lovely line if you're an after-dinner speaker and your audience is middle-aged or older, but creaky-sounding if you're running for president in the 21st century.
Another reason Schmidt is not a genius: McCain is good at town halls where he can compensate for his own seeming lack of vigor by feeding on the energy of the crowd -- but if there's no crowd reaction allowed, there's no energy. McCain couldn't compensate, and nobody in his campaign seems to have anticipated that he needed to.
(And holy crap -- the CNN snap poll not only says Obama won handily, it says he was regarded as the stronger leader, 54%-43%. I think that's a factor of McCain's physical bearing as much as what the two of them said.)
And beyond that, why devote the days leading up to your debate to All Ayers, All the Time when it's easy to anticipate that town hall questioners aren't going to ask you questions about that -- and when you also know that pivoting to those character attacks is going to make you look nasty and Lazio-like? Why make your entire message for days "My opponent is really, really scary" when you know the whole country is going to see him debate and see that he clearly isn't scary?
Not a great night for McCain. Rove would be doing a better job right now.