John McCain’s return to Washington could have paid dividends for him had it been handled properly and if he actually had a clear sense of what he wanted to accomplish.  Instead, he looked extraordinarily political and – even worse for him – weak.  As a result, he undermined his brand in a big way.

The public is waking up to stories about the debacle at the White House yesterday and John McCain looks like he is to blame.  After all, it was his meeting – he requested it.  And from many accounts, he was a wet noodle during the proceedings, taking no positions and letting it devolve into a shouting match as he watched from the sidelines.

Assuming the markets react negatively to the what happened at the White House yesterday, Senator Obama and/or Democrats can rightly beat the daylights out of McCain for derailing the deal and making things worse.  He is now vulnerable to charges that he won’t just be bad for the economy as president, he’s bad for the economy as a candidate.

One of the most telling anecdotes from the meeting was when Obama asked McCain to articulate his views:

At one point, several minutes into the session, Obama said it was time to hear from McCain. According to a Republican who was there, “all he said was, ‘I support the principles that House Republicans are fighting for.’”

Some at the table took that to mean the conservatives’ alternative proposal, which stands little chance of passage.

When you’re a leader, your words should be clear, not open to interpretation.  Democrats can now attack McCain, not for his views, but for the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any on the most pressing matter of the day.  As a result, there’s no deal and the economy remains on the precipice.

One final thought: The politics of this deal are awful.  People are rightly wondering why some Wall Street firm should get bailed out when Joe Sixpack doesn’t get squat for losing his shirt if he makes a bad deal.  Check out  The candidates, congressionals and the White House must do a much better job of educating the public about what’s at stake here.