In the three-ring circus over the financial rescue bill, the Republican candidate has shown an instinct for his own jugular, grasping the issue for political advantage and then becoming encoiled in his own flailings.
"Even before the House vote, voters blamed Republicans more than Democrats for the crisis. Then McCain suspended his campaign to come back to Washington to rally support for a rescue plan," says CNN political analyst Bill Schneider. "He failed, so he gets blamed by both supporters and opponents of the rescue plan."
When the bill appeared headed for passage, McCain took credit for influencing House Republicans to support it even though, during the tense Saturday evening negotiations, the McCains were having a leisurely dinner with the Liebermans at a posh Washington restaurant.
Now, after his purportedly convinced confreres brought the House bill down, the Republican nominee is back on the campaign trail in mournful mode: "Yesterday, the country and the world looked to Washington for leadership, and Congress once again came up empty-handed."
This now-detached analysis is coupled with criticism of Barack Obama for the contradictory offenses of injecting partisanship and just wanting to "phone it in" on the issue.
McCain could have saved himself all these contortions if, like Obama, he just showed up as one member of Congress and didn't try to play premature president for the TV cameras. The one in the White House ended up with egg on his face yesterday, and so did McCain.