Reports yesterday afternoon signalled that a deal was in the works between the Administration and Congressal leaders (namely, Dodd) and then the circus started, McCain arrived, and the deal fell through. I'm skeptical that they were ever all that close to a deal to begin with, but at the end of the day, nothing had been agreeded upon, and we're now left wondering whether McCain will show up to the debates tonight.
Ignoring for a moment the details of the various bailout proposals (because we don't really know what they are), McCain has put himself in a pretty tough spot. First, it is hard to argue that there is a impending crisis when, day after day, it doesn't manifest -- the Dow didn't drop 20% yesterday, nor Wednesday, nor will it today. I think investors are in a holding pattern because they know that the government is going to do something, so there isn't a massive wave of selling. So now McCain is left to do what, keep predicting doom? That's generally not a good campaign message. Further, not that it was ever likely to happen in the first place, because McCain isn't on the right Senate committee nor in the majority party, the longer this negotiation drags on, the harder it is for McCain to take any credit for it. Anyone paying attention will notice that the key players are some combination of Paulson, Bush, Dodd, Shelby (the ranking Republican on the Senate banking committee), and perhaps Boehner, the House minority leader, who seems to appear in a lot of news stories (his counterpart, Pelosi, seems to largely be deferring to Dodd in this matter, which is probably the right move).
So McCain's 'I'm flying to Washington and I'm going to crack heads' move didn't work, and now there's a debate scheduled for 9pm tonight and his appearance is questionable. Obama has said he'll be there. Is McCain really going to give Obama 90 minutes of free television time with no rebuttals? Obama could make an opening statement saying something to the effect of "I think it is important to talk directly to the American people about this problem, that's why I'm here." He can then take questions from the audience and show his softer side, so people see an image of him talking to actual people rather than from a podium. This forum is probably not Obama's strongest form of delivery, but that's only because he's so damn good at giving speeches. And it is a helluva easier to do the town-hall thing when there's no opponent! Of course, if McCain had chosen a VP whom they trusted, they could pull yet another stunt and send that person (indeed, what better way to show that your VP is Ready for Prime Time), but Sarah Palin can't be trusted, so the McCain campaign won't do that -- but wow, would it be fun if they did!
What are McCain's options? Well, he could give Obama the aforementioned free TV time. Bad move. If he goes to the debate without a deal announcement, then McCain looks like a dope, because he's now a) flip-flopped and b) looked incapable of delivering, of leading. Of course, Dodd knows this, so what's his motivation to rush things along and make an announcement today? I suppose that, in the interest of the party, Bush and various other people could cover for McCain and announce that something is close, all-but-final, etc., thus allowing McCain to save face and go to the debate, but my guess is such a ploy would ring a bit hollow (not that the campaign suspension didn't already ring hollow).
In the end, this whole gamble by McCain, just like his pick of Palin, was incredibly short-sighted, with no appreciation for alternative scenarios where things don't go how you idealize them in your mind. Remind you of anyone?