Announcing that he'll be going to the debate tonight, McCain issues a statement saying "[h]e is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations, including Representative Blunt as a designated negotiator for House Republicans."
Jeez. To the distant observer there appears to be a lot more rancor than there was before McCain arrived in Washington. And a "framework" for "negotiations" is a far cry from what McCain's Wednesday statement originally identified as his goal:
I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people.
The degree of bipartisan consensus prior to McCain's involvement was probably overstated: that was a message largely scripted by Democrats, and many top Republicans were never on board. That said, there's more outright anger, conflict and uncertainty over this plan than existed midweek. By McCain's original logic, the argument for staying in Washington has gotten stronger, not weaker. Which lends ample support to the notion that this was a stunt all along.
How will it play: In these situations I'm inclined to think most voters--busy leading real lives and not reading, say, The Stump!--will only have an impressionistic sense of what's going on. Initially I think the impression was likely to be that McCain showed leadership and took charge of the situation after a stretch when both candidates looked passive. Even if McCain parachuted in just as a deal was passing and played no role, it seemed possible that he could steal some credit.
But now the low-information voter, if you will, probably has a sense that the minute McCain hit the ground everything in Washington went to hell in a familiary, absurd, system-is-broken kind of way. And now he's getting out of dodge. Hard to see how that's a net gain for him.
Time for a creative new round of attack ads, I'd guess.