McCain’s worst day

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for McCain on Thursday. He stands implicated in the stalling of the financial rescue plan. His proposal to postpone Friday’s planned television debate ended up looking like a cheap political ploy, intended either to break Obama’s renewed momentum, push back the Palin-Biden debate, or even let McCain hide from his opponent. And that second theory, strained as it may seem, was made to look plausible by Palin’s truly dismal performance in part two of her television interview with Katie Couric.

Was this the same Palin who gave the convention speech – or even the less-than-stunning Palin of the Charles Gibson interview? She was simply awful. In response to straightforward questions, she was scared, rambling, incoherent, and at times completely unintelligible. She looked stupid. She gave her critics everything they could have wished.

Exactly what happened during the White House talks about the rescue package is unclear. Both sides were certainly playing politics – but there can be no doubt that the Democrats won the contest. McCain wanted to seize the initiative, look presidential, and get credit for bringing forth an agreement. The Democrats wanted to deny him that success (by announcing prematurely that a deal had been done), and to force him to reverse himself over Friday’s debate. McCain was dished because neither he nor the House Republicans who blocked the revised package could explain why they had done so: at any rate, they had no intelligent alternative to suggest. McCain apparently sat quiet through most of the meeting. He put politics aside and rushed back to Washington for this?

If I were McCain, I’d be dreading the next batch of polls. What does he do to retrieve the situation? I don’t know that it can be retrieved. Staying away from Friday’s debate is not going to help. He needs to turn up and win.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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