So much for “putting country first,” said Trudy Rubin in The Philadelphia Inquirer. As the financial system teetered on collapse last week, John McCain briefly suspended his campaign and made a “theatrical rush” to Washington to join negotiations on a $700 billion bailout bill. But when it came time for Republicans to vote on the bill this week, “McCain’s leadership skills were nowhere to be seen.” Just hours after he publicly took credit for forging a deal on the bailout plan, two-thirds of his fellow Republicans rebelled, and the plan went down to defeat. McCain took a huge gamble and lost, said Democratic consultant Howard Wolfson in The New Republic Online. He never should have inserted himself into sensitive congressional negotiations, and he has lost “credibility and prestige” by failing to convince Republicans to back the bill he publicly supported. Now McCain is stuck “owning a defeat he could have avoided.”
“No doubt McCain has had a few rough days politically,” said Steve Huntley in the Chicago Sun-Times. But that’s because his “deeply held commitment” to his country impelled him to seek a solution to the crisis. The narrative that the rescue plan was on its way to passage before McCain intervened is a “fantasy, as subsequent events have proved.” Neither Republicans nor Democrats were solidly behind it and McCain correctly saw disaster looming. Obama, meanwhile, has characteristically remained aloof, said Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times. He showed no leadership and took no chances during the negotiations, and jumped all over McCain for saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong. Memo to Obama: “During a panic,” leaders try to provide reassurance, instead of exploiting the public’s alarm.
Nonetheless, the country’s all-consuming focus on the economy is a major boost for Obama—and a nightmare for McCain, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online. The lingering war in Iraq and President Bush’s unpopularity already make it “a toxic environment” for Republicans, and a bad economy will further help Obama sell “change” to an unhappy electorate. This explains why in recent weeks McCain has looked like “the proverbial cartoon character over the edge of the cliff, in midair, desperately flapping his arms and somehow maintaining altitude.” His only chance of beating Obama now, McCain figures, is to evoke Ross Perot—damned angry on the public’s behalf, and not taking it anymore. Will this angry populist routine work? It’s a long shot, but judging by how furiously McCain is flapping his arms, he won’t fail for lack of trying.