Two hours into the meeting, Mr. Obama walked in the door. Henry M. Paulson, the secretary of the Treasury, had just alerted him of bad economic news that would become public in the coming hours, Mr. Obama told his aides. “The world is going to change and whatever you guys are working on is going to be different tomorrow,” he said, according to participants.
Early the next morning, Lehman Brothers, one of the nation’s most prominent securities firms, filed for bankruptcy. The collapse shook the nation’s financial industry and sent the stock market into free fall. Overnight, with the election less than two months away, a historic economic crisis transformed America’s presidential race, testing both candidates on who best could lead the nation to recovery.
With its staggering death toll, surging unemployment and economic devastation, the Covid-19 crisis confronting the nation today is far more cataclysmic than the 2008 meltdown. But Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain faced a series of choices — on leadership, empathy and tone, on executing political strategy and navigating fast-moving events on Wall Street, Main Street and Washington — that are relevant and even illuminating as President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. try to navigate another campaign playing out against the backdrop of a national emergency.