I think those postulating a “McCain panic” theory to explain his campaign suspension don’t understand, or pretend not to understand, John McCain. This is what he does. He elevates matters he considers higher national priorities above politics, which he finds at some level distasteful. Lots of people differ with his priorities, but that’s not at issue. If you look back over McCain’s career, he does this again and again: campaign finance reform, immigration reform, the surge and now this. He junks his party and the immediate short term political consequences when he thinks there’s something else at play. That, in large part, is what drive his GOP base nuts. And they likely won’t be thrilled here.
One can attribute nefarious motive (“Ah! He’s just feigning love of country and putting his political career at risk!”) or you can take the more mundane explanation: this is how he operates and what he honestly believes. This performance with Katie Couric is plainly him at his best.
As for Barack Obama, I agree with this take that his initial effort to avoid involvement with brokering a deal didn’t come off all that well. (“It’s shocking that someone who believes himself ready to lead the free world would so brazenly try to dodge any participation in what could be a defining moment in our history.”) What was striking about Obama’s comment was his remark that if “the Congressional leadership” needed him, he’d be available. It’s an odd way to put it — he is the leader of his party now and he seemed utterly disinterested in doing anything that involved active problem-solving/deal-making. He does, after all, have a current job — in the Senate.
As for how this plays out: McCain will get some credit (and deservedly so) for “forcing” Obama to back down from “business as usual” politics. He will, however, be forced himself — as will Congress now (which is making progress it seems) — to come up with a deal, a bitter pill for many voters and certainly for conservatives who are souring on the entire concept of a bailout. He better hope the unpopular medicine and the cries from the political base don’t outweigh whatever credit he may derive from getting a deal done. If in several weeks the market recovers and it looks like the predicted meltdown has been averted, he stands to benefit.
And the Friday debate? After disrupting his opponent’s prep schedule and making a show of support for a bipartisan deal in Washington, I’m betting he finds “sufficient progress” is made by Friday to do the debate–and then he suggest switching topics or talking about “everything.” The benefit for McCain is that he does these debates and off-the cuff appearances all the time and requires far less prep than Obama–whose last outing with Rick Warren was a semi-disaster. (I can’t count the National Service Forum because everyone in the country who tried to watch fell asleep and can’t remember what anyone said.)
And as for the polls, forget the Black Hole – this is the Black Canyon of polling shakeups.