Okay, so I thought the picture was funny. Other than that, it wasn't the reason that McCain lost. Why did McCain lose?
First, let's get the lay of the land. Here goes:
The demographics in '04 were pretty much like the '08. Not much changed. Exit polling showed that the same amount of people called themselves conservatives and liberals, turnout was about the same as '04, there was no surge of new or young voters, etc. However, instead of a 51-48 Bush win it was a 53-47 Obama win.
Bush got 62 million votes in 2004. Obama got 66 million in '08. McCain got one in five Hillary voters, but lost one in five Bush voters. This was hardly a tectonic shift.
The country has not changed dramatically, but we had a decisive Demo win in the presidential election.
As for McCain, well, I've was against him before I was for him, but I want to preface what follows with this: I've got nothing personal against McCain. He will always have my respect for his service to the nation. However, his ideas and way of dealing with political opponents (Demos at least) have been experimentally verified again and again to be fundamentally flawed.
To take off on Carville's old adage: It's the ideas, stupid.
So, here's my take on what happened:
1) The Economic Meltdown (and McCain's response to it) -- The economic meltdown pretty much made McCain's chances of winning slim, unless he had been able to thread the needle with an exceptional campaign. For better or worse, most voters blame the party in power when the economy goes south. And they equate the presidency with "party in power".
To compound this problem, McCain's extraordinarily poor response to the meltdown was really the defining moment of the presidential campaign. First, he suspended his campaign. Then, he went back to Washington and got set up like a stooge by Demos in Congress. Rather than appropriately firing back, McCain pressed for Blessed Bipartisanship. Demos meanwhile stuck knives in his back and prepared to get as many Republicans to sign on to the bailout monstrosity as they could get.
If McCain had listened to me ... and Dick Morris, and Rush, and many other conservatives, he would have had a defining issue to campaign on down the stretch. Americans hate the bailout (thank God it has saved us, though ... ahem). After all, McCain even could have voted against it and not stopped its passage. He was in a perfect spot. But incredibly he snuggled up next to Obama and voted for the bailout. During this process, too, don't forget that McCain was wildly proposing things left and right on a near-daily basis, i.e., buying back mortgages, firing the SEC Chief, etc.. He railed against corporate greed and excess and couldn't find the heart and energy to go after the Demos who created the Fannie-Freddie mess that was a huge log in the raging economic fire.
Simply put, McCain didn't know what to do, and it showed. Obama just stood there, and he looked like a genius by comparison. Amazingly, McCain singlehandedly put to rest much of the country's doubts about Obama with his own erratic behavior. In such a time, a conservative would have gone back to first principles of the free market. McCain went back to first principles -- bi-partisanship and just doing something, ideas be damned. But elections and politics are about ideas. Election over.
2) Two Terms of a President in Power -- Two terms of any president makes it much harder for his party to win a third term. Pres. H.W. Bush pulled it off while riding the very large coattails of the Reagan Administration. Still, he only had to get past Mike Dukakis, who mounted a tank one time too many.
In this election year, though, we also had two ongoing wars, combined with the public's view that at least one of these wars (if not both) should have been won long ago. Given the aforementioned economic problems, we had a situation where it was tough for Republicans under the best environment.
3) Failures of both Pres. Bush and Republicans -- People were and are rightfully disappointed in Republicans. Republicans lost their way during the last 8 years as the supposed party of smaller government and individual liberty. Republicans in Washington seemed afraid to compare and contrast their views with Demos' views. Indeed, the positions became to hard to distinguish, at all. Republicans advocated open borders like the Demos. Republicans were supposed to know how to manage wars ... get in, win, and get out.
Given the choice between a real Demo and a Republican acting like one, the electorate will choose the real thing every time. Conversely, given the choice between a real Republican and a wannabe, the real thing triumphs every time. Why is this? Such a form of argumentation concedes to the audience watching that the "real thing" is on the high ground.
Of all the failures of Republicans, I think the most deadly one was the failure of the Bush Administration to explain itself, defend itself from critics, and particularly to explain why/how the Demos could get us all killed. The Bush Administration has done an excellent job in taking on the jihadis, but this was not explained to Americans. They didn't even try. If the Administration itself won't tell Americans, why should we expect the public to really know or understand how significant a point this is? Given the non-stop Bush Derangement Syndrome and toxic rhetoric utilized by the Demos for 8 years, a lot of things -- whether fair or not -- eventually stuck in the minds of many voters.
4) Ineptitude of the McCain Campaign -- The McCain campaign was rudderless, and it didn't even have a message of any kind until bloggers caught Obama on tape blabbing to Joe the Plumber. McCain's pick of Sarah Palin was a great move, but then his people hid her from the media. Palin and other conservatives instinctively knew that the Rev. Wright issue was important and could be pivotal. But John McBiPartisanship declared this potential silver bullet off-limits. Instead, there was a late run at Obama on the Ayers issue (a legitimate issue, but nowhere near the association that Obama had with Wright), but still ... the campaign never really explained why Ayers was so important, either. McCain himself made and repeated the inane statement, "I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist." His campaign crowds would boo him when he said this. I care about Ayers. I think he should be in prison for what he did. Most Americans had no idea even how Ayers beat the wrap. But McCain wasn't about to explain it. You could tell he felt dirty just bringing it up.
The myriad associations issues surrounding Obama should have been hit hard and relentlessly throughout the month of August and burned into the brians of voters. If they had been, voters would have likely been unwilling to view Obama as favorably as they did when the stock market melted down in October. McCain wanted to be nice, but Obama wanted to win.
Let us not forget that the McCain campaign was rudderless because McCain is a moderate. Moderates, by definition, lack rudders but unfortunately, they still like to sail.
While McCain was meandering Obama was focused and on message. McCain showed, once again, that he truly believes that politics transcends message and ideology to "get things done". (See his response to the economic meltdown above).
Such an approach "gets things done" all right. It gets Demos elected.
5) Failure to Run as a Conservative -- McCain left a lot of conservative ammunition unspent. Why? He doesn't believe in using it. He may have started as a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution, but he doesn't share a lot of the views of the Republican base today.
Some criticized Gov. Palin for failing to properly defend McCain's positions on issues, but who could defend McCain's views? McCain, in true moderate fashion, has positions all over the map. Don't look for the common denominator, because such an exercise is futile, a cruel trick question. McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts but then campaigned for them. He changed his position during the campaign to support offshore drilling, but not drilling in ANWR. Who can rationally explain this without reference to the need/desire to get elected?
McCain also refused to meaningfully espouse socially conservative views during the campaign, even though he ostensibly shares the same views. The country does, too. How appropriate that on the night Obama won that Nebraska also voted to end affirmative action? And Florida voted against same-sex "marriage", as did California. California?! McCain had an opportunity to win over many Americans of goodwill on the abortion issue, as well, given Obama's extreme views and support of partial-birth abortion. It was a golden opportunity to move this debate forward, but McCain passed. McCain and other moderate types are uncomfortable making such arguments.
This is why moderates have difficulty winning national elections.
6) Money, money, money -- How appropriate is it that McCain the "Campaign Finance Reformer" would become trapped in the system he created ... and then defeated by the Demo Machine that never was and never will be constrained by such regulation? Conservatives like me warned McCain that this would happen. Funny, but it was also conservatives like me who were left to defend the McCain campaign when the David Brooks and Kathleen Parkers of the world were going wobbly. That's the way it usually goes -- conservatives work to prevent evil and are then left to fight it when it comes. But I digress (slightly).
Obama's campaign openly broke campaign finance laws by failing verify credit card donations. So, contributors could provide unlimited credit card donations from all over the world. But guess whose campaign is going to get audited? You got it. The one that got the federal matching dollars. Good thing McCain got that $85 Million for his whole campaign because Obama raised that much in two weeks on the internet.
McCain and many in Washington propose new "reforms" without simply insisting on compliance with existing regulations. Conservatives know such an approach won't work, and we know that the Demos and their media allies have a huge advantage when we don't have the dollars to fight them off. We told McCain this during the Campaign Finance debate, but he got his way.
Obama's huge financial advantage was pivotal in many close states, and such a fiasco should never be allowed to happen again. McCain-Feingold is a disaster and no Republican should ever be hoodwinked again into staying within the public financing system. Sure, they will say we are trying to buy the election (like Obama just did).
They might even say other mean things about Republicans. Then, we'll track 'em day and night and put up ridiculous wind surfing videos of their leftist candidates and such all over TV in every close state and laugh all the way to the White House.
You commit to fight to win. And then you fight to win. McCain, for all his "fight" rhetoric, failed to fight to win this election.
7) Information, organization, and dissemination -- The Demos own the internet right now, and McCain's campaign acted like it was looking for that other internet that Pres. Bush referenced during his 2004 debate with Kerry. Where are you, Karl Rove? In addition to having an in-the-tank media, Demos got out their message via the internet far better than Republicans. In some way, leftist blogs have a structural advantage over conservatives, but we can and must be more focused.
It helps when you party's candidate is beloved by the party's base. Then, this and other problems tend to take care of themselves. Note that the "great center" doesn't do the heavy lifting in campaigns. (This is yet another reason why you don't tailor your campaign to such voters.) Hard to get excited when you can't decide, I guess.
Live and learn. There is a place for moderates to be elected in the Republican Party -- as congressmen, senators, governors and state legislators in blue states.
Here's the bottom line: In this toughest of election years, McCain still could have won. The loyal oppostion has work to do. But that work is rebuilding a party, and not remaking the country.