Three Reasons McCain Lost

by Sal on November 6, 2008

in Economy,Election 2008,Politics

McCain’s defeat by President-Elect Barack Obama can be attributed to many factors, such as the media, Obama’s smoothness, Obama’s ground organization, etc.  Here, however, I am going to focus on three areas in the McCain campaign strategy that, had they done things differently, may have yielded a different result this past Tuesday. 

Response to the Financial Crisis:  First and foremost, the financial crisis is what did John McCain in.  Before the crisis hit, McCain’s poll numbers were running 3-5 points ahead of Obama’s, and after the crisis hit, he fell behind never to recover.  Yet, the crisis itself was not responsible for McCain’s downfall.  it was rather his response to the crisis that contributed to his defeat.  At the onset of the crisis, the McCain camp didn’t know how to respond to the crisis.  Indeed, in the days following, McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign, only to retract a few days later and not have anything come out of it, appeared confused and impulsive.  Had McCain had a more decisive and coherent response to the crisis, he may have mitigated his drop in the polls, and been able to more effectively turn things around later on. 

Failure to Blame Democrats for the Financial Mess:  The American people placed the blame, wrongly, on President Bush.  Peoplevoted for Barack because they were angry with the party in power, and wanted “change.”  McCain never really made the case that the Democrats were really the ones to blame for this.  By effectively placing the blame on Congress, already an unpopular institution, the whole dynamic of the race could have changed.  Sure, the case was weakly made once or twice, but not forcefully enough and not repeated often enough to make a difference in the consciousness of the American voter.  More voters believed that the financial mess was the result of deregulation because the Democrats, along with Barack, pounded that message home. 

No Underlying Philosophy:  McCain never had a real underlying philosophy that guided his positions on issues and policy.  He was a “maverick” who often went on gut rather than principles.  This is not to say that he was unprincipled, but rather that he really didn’t have a set of core beliefs when it came to domestic policy.  The average voter never really was given a reason to vote for John McCain, only to vote against Barack Obama.  It was only in the last week to two weeks of the campaign, with the advent of Joe the Plumber, that the McCain campaign seemed to get some clear, concrete focus.  By that time, it was too little, too late. 

McCain had a difficult road to climb in this past election.  It would have been difficult for any presidential contender.  In the end, though, his own Maverick style may have done him in.  His lack of a coherent philosophy and Domestic plan caused him to fall behind when the financial crisis hit, and never recover.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike November 6, 2008 at 3:06 pm

4. Obama was an excellent speaker and will be for four years. If we deny that or downplay the importance of the spoken word (even empty words), he will win again.

5. Democrat ground game and fundraising.

6. Unpopular President. Rightly or wrongly, a tarnished brand is relevant.

McCain wasn’t the perfect candidate, but I think he did well with the hand he was dealt. McCain did well as early as Saddleback and took the lead to which you refer after selecting Palin. All candidates get some things right and some things wrong. When a candidate wins, we forget what he did wrong. When a candidate loses, we forget what he did right.


Sal November 6, 2008 at 3:13 pm

I don’t disagree with any of your reasons. There are numerous reasons any Presidential candidate wins or loses. The three you mentioned are all valid and definately contributed to Obama’s victory. What I was focusing on in my post, however, was three things that went wrong from the point of view of the McCain campaign. Are all camapigns going to make mistakes? Sure. I realize this is Monday-morning quarterbacking, but I do think the three things I mentioned, had they been handled differently, may have made a difference in the result. Would it have made a difference in the outcome? We’ll never know, but I do think they were relevant.


Mike November 6, 2008 at 3:41 pm

I misread your post then. Sorry about that. I thought you meant McCain would have won if the three were done differently. My point is that we cannot overlook the opposition’s strengths or simply rely on the simplistic notion that conservative always equals victory. Usually, but not always.


Chris November 6, 2008 at 3:46 pm

And I’m going to add one more to the list of reasons McCain lost: national/homeland security.

Apparently Darryl Worley’s song (“Have you forgotten”) has come true. It is no accident that we have not been attacked since 9-11. The Bush Administration was way, way too modest on this in the past 7 years (you can make the argument that had he not been, he’d be saying “bring it on,” but Americans have a short memory) and it was almost non-existent by McCain. Obama shed light on what he would do and McCain should have been pouncing on this from the moment the words were uttered. This short memory is also true in NJ. Two out of the three towns (Hoboken, Middletown, Summit) in NJ that lost the most citizens on 9-11 voted overwhelmingly for Obama. This is the most important issue of our time because everything else is moot if we can’t protect ourselves and I don’t think Obama has the chops to see it through.

I just finished reading Vince Flynn’s new book Extreme Measures and it is scares me that the events depicted in this book could very well happen as a result of the upcoming Obama Administration.


donny November 14, 2008 at 1:51 am

Sorry guys,McCain lost for the simple reason that the majority of people did not agree with his politics.


Sal November 14, 2008 at 6:28 am

Originally Posted By donny
Sorry guys,McCain lost for the simple reason that the majority of people did not agree with his politics.

The exit poll data doesn’t agree with your assessment. On the issues, most people in this country are conservative according to polling data. Much went into McCain losing this year, and it did not have to do with this country tilting left.


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