When John McCain held an unexpected news conference mid-Wednesday afternoon he addressed the current economic crisis with direness previously unseen. His campaign would be suspended, he told reporters, in order to work on the bailout legislation in Congress. The debate scheduled with Barack Obama on Friday night, he added, could be postponed.

Observers, critics, even fellow Republicans, were left wondering: where did this sense of urgency come from? After all, it was this past Sunday that McCain hinted on "60 Minutes" that he would support the bailout -- "we have to stop the bleeding" -- only to express deep criticisms on Monday and then admit he hadn't even read the three-page proposal on Tuesday. "I have not had a chance to see it in writing," said the Senator. "I have to examine it."

The move permeated with political opportunism: an attempt by McCain to grab the leadership mantle he did not own and divert attention from poll numbers that were plummeting. Indeed, on Wednesday morning a Washington Post-ABC poll had McCain trailing Obama 52% to 43% among likely voters. The internals were even worse: 54% of white voters with economic anxiety favored Obama.

So McCain changed the script, announcing his imminent departure from the campaign trail. And members of Congress were left scratching their heads.
"I'm delighted that John is expressing himself on this issue," said Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. "I have heard form Obama numerous occasions these last couple days. I have never heard from John McCain on the issue... I'm just worried a little bit that its sort of politicizing this problem, sort of flying in here, I'm beginning to think this is more of a rescue plan for John McCain and not a rescue plan for the economy."

McCain's mixed messaging on the bailout proposal was not just bizarre. It was emblematic of his actions the entire week. Indeed, the Senator has been all over the map when it comes to addressing the current situation. When the market crisis originally surfaced, McCain - now infamously - was the one to declare that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Later he would call the situation the worst since World War II.

Even his actions on Wednesday seemed either oddly calculated or at conflict with the image he was trying to present. It was, in fact, Obama who first proposed to form a unity front in addressing the issue, calling McCain at 8:30 in the morning to discuss the issuance of a joint statement. The call went unreturned for six hours. McCain's campaign would later claim he was huddling with economic advisers. But during that time he made a scheduled stop with Lady Lynn de Rothschild, a high society New York Democrat who recently endorsed his campaign. Rothschild did not return repeated request for comment.