Good thing that John McCain suspended his campaign and rushed back to Washington with a flourish so he could round up Republican votes and pass the bailout. Who knows what might have happened had he not interceded on the bill's behalf and put his own credibility on the line for it. The markets would have tanked, our allies would have lost confidence in us, and...oh, never mind.
Last week Senator McCain looked goofy by coming off the campaign trail and interposing himself into the legislative process over the bailout. Today he looks like a loser -- his credibility and prestige diminished by the bill's failure. And worse -- these wounds are self-inflected. Senator McCain didn't need to own this debacle -- he chose to interpose himself into the process, raising questions about his erratic judgement once again.
Last week I argued that the McCain campaign's strategy of chasing news cycles was a very risky one. Today we see why. The McCain campaign won an initial set of headlines by announcing that the Senator would suspend his campaign and return to Washington to help pass the bailout bill. But there was never really any plan to do so: Senator McCain proposed no measure of his own, sat silently at the White House summit he engineered, and was clearly unable to convince enough conservative House Republicans to go along with the bill.
Senator Obama knew better than to take ownership of a process that he couldn't really control and probably didn't want to. Had Senator McCain been succesful in his efforts he could have claimed a real victory -- instead he is left owning a defeat he could have avoided.
Now we are back to the drawing board. A weakened and ineffective President, unable even to rally his fellow Republicans in the House will work with Congressional leaders on a new plan. You can bet John McCain will be staying far away from Washington while they do so.
Howard Wolfson also blogs at Gotham Acme.