The US Credit Crunch: 'The Economic Crisis Has Probably Doomed McCain's Campaign'

Republicans now appear ready to back the plan, but the bailout remains deeply unpopular with many conservatives and large numbers of voters. In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview, conservative commentator Fred Barnes argues the financial crisis could stall John McCain's presidential bid.

Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain: "He needed to explain why he went to Washington, what he wanted to achieve, what his economic plans for a new administration are."
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Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain: "He needed to explain why he went to Washington, what he wanted to achieve, what his economic plans for a new administration are."

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is the resistance of Republican House members so strong against the bailout plan?

FRED BARNES: This plan is so big and expensive, but the members of the House of Representatives were not really involved in the negotiations about it. The plan is also deeply unpopular with the population. There was tremendous unrest among voters against the plan. Many saw it as a betrayal of Republican principles, as a government intrusion into free markets.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the entire Republican leadership was pushing for it.

BARNES: The Republican leaders have failed utterly. President Bush gave a very weak speech when he tried to rally the troops. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson presented a plan that was very expensive - and left it largely to himself how to spend the money. And the Republican leaders in Congress miscalculated how much influence they had on the individual members. The members listened to the concerns of their constituents who swamped them with letters, e-mails, phone calls -- and these constituents carried the day.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does that underscore how much of a spent force President Bush has become?

BARNES: Well, he is a spent force. He has only three months to go. Nevertheless, he could have been much stronger. He could have made clear that the taxpayers were likely to get much of the $700 billion back eventually. But he did not communicate it well. And Paulson seemed like the right person to have in such a crisis. He is very knowledgeable about the financial markets. But, quite frankly, he presented a plan he could not sell.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will that hurt the Republicans on election day?

BARNES: Oh, absolutely. It will hurt both the Republican Party and John McCain. It will probably cause McCain to lose the presidency -- and the Republicans to lose even more seats in the House and in the Senate.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What could John McCain have done better?

BARNES: He tried. He went back to Washington and made an effort to be at the center of the negotiations. That is the way he is, that's what he always tries to do. But it was almost impossible for him to succeed. The Democrats control Congress; and when McCain returned to Washington, they basically shut him out of the negotiations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: His critics charge that even in the TV debate with Obama he didn't have much to say about the economic situation.

BARNES: He was weak on that topic in the debate. He needed to explain why he went to Washington, what he wanted to achieve, what his economic plans for a new administration are. He did not really do that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is there any way McCain can redeem himself?

BARNES: The bailout plan is probably going to pass on Friday. It might work for him that his imprint will be on it. But the economic crisis has probably doomed McCain's campaign. Look at the polls: Obama is ahead now nationally and in most battleground states. It might not be fair. McCain tried to do something and now he's getting punished for it. Obama didn't do much. But politics is not always fair.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If the GOP gets defeated in November, what will the future of the party look like? Some predict an ideological break-up between neoconservatives, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives.

BARNES: It will be more of a generational shift. We will see new leadership in Congress and without a Republican President there won't be a clear party leader. We will see new people rise such as the young Governor Bobby Jindal from Louisiana. One thing is clear: The Bush/McCain era will be over.

Interview conducted by Gregor Peter Schmitz.

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