First, I must admit that the title of this article is a little unfair as credit should be given where credit is due. The 2008 election will not be remembered as the year that John McCain lost. Instead, it will be remembered as the year Barack Obama won, and rightly so. The Obama campaign was a brilliant symphony of execution in which hard work, innovative techniques and a unified vision all came together. Barack Obama seized upon the possibilities provided by the Internet in unison with a rigorous get-out-the-vote effort. As a result millions of Americans (although fewer than estimated) came to the polls and cast their votes for the Obama-Biden ticket.
You can talk all you want about Obama's messianic appeal and gifted oratory, but all elections ultimately come down to who runs the superior campaign. At nearly every turn and on almost every major issue the President-elect's team outshined McCain's squad. That being said, the McCain campaign made many avoidable mistakes.In retrospect, McCain ran one of the most discombobulated presidential campaigns in recent memory. As we lay the McCain presidential bid to rest, one is well-served to review some of the biggest pitfalls to which Mr. McCain succumbed.
Perhaps the first difficulty John McCain faced was his precarious positioning on the ideological scale - John McCain was not a true conservative. The self-described maverick often displayed his moderate tendencies, which at times gained him widespread appeal and at other isolated him from the conservative base. It is hard to criticize John McCain for having his own beliefs and refusing to regurgitate his party's traditional platform. Blame in this category can fall on the Bush years in that Americans seemed bent on distancing themselves from anyone whose policy stances resembled those of George W. Bush. These sentiments led to the selection of a more moderate candidate for the GOP, who in turn had trouble giving faithful Republicans a real reason and motivation to get out to the polls. Thus it is important to realize that, in many ways, McCain was doomed from the start or at the very least a massive underdog to whichever Democratic candidate he faced.
McCain's weak conservative credentials forced his hand when it came to selecting a running mate. Observers warned that a moderate choice would further isolate the right-wing base. Heeding this sentiment, McCain chose a wildcard. At first Sarah Palin's selection came as a breath of fresh air into an otherwise lethargic campaign by the Republicans. It appeared that McCain had hit a home run. Palin was young, attractive, a Washington outsider and clearly stood to the right of McCain on most policy issues. The temporary spike provided by Palin subsided quickly as her publicity became increasingly negative.
Again, one cannot fairly criticize McCain for a vitriol tabloid fanaticism by many components in the media. One can, however, question both his selection and handling of his VP pick. McCain failed to realize the importance of having a running mate who had already been vetted. Palin's outsider status made her an unknown and thus inspired the more partisan members of the media to find dirt wherever possible.
And Sarah Palin was not ready. Someday, Palin will be successful on the national stage, but 2008 was too soon. The McCain campaign did not do Palin any favors in the way they handled her from the beginning. The campaign itself is partly to blame for the Katie Couric interview debacle as it kept her sheltered from the media initially and then unleashed her to the dogs without any armor. Palin needed a few more years as governor of Alaska and then a possible U.S. Senate run before she was thrown onto the biggest stage in the world. In the future, Palin has too much potential to be wasted. Her ability to appeal to average Americans and draw large crowds of adoring fans are testaments to her vast political capital. Unfortunately for her, she didn't have a fair chance.
Most importantly, the economy was the straw that broke the camel's back for McCain. His unpredictability and rogue swagger was on full display as he dramatically suspended his campaign in September during the heat of the financial panic and vowed to storm Washington to get something done. This Mr.-fix-it mentality would come to bite him as he was as much a distraction in D.C. as he was an asset. Indeed things were never the same after the first debate -- Obama owned the economic discourse from that point on. The economy was the number one issue for most Americans and the polls reflected this reality. McCain and his strategists quite simply failed to reassure voters that they could be trusted to revive the limping economy. Even on taxes, an issue that Republicans usually enjoy a great advantage on, Obama ruled the day.
John McCain admitted during the primaries that his greatest weakness was on economic issues. Many months later on Nov. 4, this self-fulfilling prophecy came to bear as he watched Barack Obama cruise to a comfortable victory.