86 percent of Fox News viewers believed McCain won the debate last night. Larison has a very sharp answer to Andy McCarthy:

The reason why McCain was smart, if gutless, to avoid talking about Obama’s associations last night is that he and his advisors seem finally to have recognized that invoking Ayers is not an effective tactic.  This is remarkable because this tactic is incredibly popular among people on the right who think that talking endlessly about the “surge” is a good idea, and McCain still doesn’t understand that the “surge,” like his obsession with earmarks, means little to most voters who want out of Iraq anyway. 

Even though there is little or no evidence that his obsession with the “surge” works with the general electorate at all, McCain has continued to invoke it every chance he gets.  Just as he does not understand that the “surge” represented a change in tactics (it is not a strategy!), he has never grasped that the tactic of hitting Obama on his opposition to the “surge” was achieving nothing.  Until last night, it seemed as if his campaign was going to make the same mistake in making Ayers a centerpiece of the last few weeks, when Ayers, like the “surge,” is something that excites and mobilizies only core supporters and no one else.

Naturally, many of those core supporters are upset that he did not launch the attacks that they think are so powerful, but what they might consider is that the fact that McCain deliberately avoided using them should tell you something about how truly weak they are.  After all, McCain has shown he has no compunctions about smearing Obama and lying about the records of his opponents; McCain wants to win, and he clearly despises Obama.  So if attacking Obama on his associations was an effective tactic, McCain would have done it with the same gusto he showed when belittling Obama’s alleged lack of understanding of foreign affairs.  That does not seem to be the lesson that many of his supporters are going to take away from last night.  Instead, they are going to adopt something like Vietnam revisionism in which they express certainty that their candidate could have won if he’d just been willing to do whatever was necessary. 

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