Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson acknowledged on Sunday that during the intense and grinding days when he was assembling the bank bailout, the two 2008 presidential candidates left decidedly different impressions about their economic platforms and expertise.
"I was very impressed that candidate Obama was very concerned with what was going on and was very supportive," said the former Bush hand who is promoting his new book "On The Brink," in which he makes similar observations. "Candidate McCain, I will admit, gave me a few more anxious days and hours."
Appearing on "Meet The Press," Paulson would go on to thank McCain for ultimately backing the TARP, despite that early skepticism.
"As he was falling behind in the polls it would have been very easy for him to demagogue that issue, playing the populist card," he said. "And if he had come out against what he were trying to do we wouldn't have got it I believe. We wouldn't have had the TARP legislation passed and we would have been left defenseless."
It is undoubtedly a futile exercise to project what would have happened had McCain opposed the TARP from its inception (the Senator has soured greatly on the program since his election loss). The votes in Congress may not have been there -- though the main complication was with House and not Senate Republicans. As for the politics of the matter, it's impossible to say what gains McCain would have made had he demagogued the issue - the program was unpopular from the get-go but his standing among voters on economic matters was already quite poor.
In the end, of course, McCain did do more than a bit of grandstanding on the TARP. The Senator "suspended" his campaign to rush back to Washington to broker a compromise and nearly canceled on a presidential debate in the process. The compulsiveness ended up hurting the Arizona Republican dramatically. And it seems likely that he would have been hurt even more had he gone to Washington only to trip up TARP deliberations further.
Asked which candidate he supported in the 2008 campaign, Paulson (a Republican) kept the information private. "Who I voted for is between me and the voting booth," he said.