Magazine December 1, 2008, Issue

Why McCain Lost

Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (at right) and his wife Cindy stand with vice presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (second from left) and her husband Todd after McCain accepted the presidential nomination at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., September 4, 2008. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
The Republican nominee played his bad hand badly

In the first grim days after the Democratic blowout, three overlapping schools of thought emerged: No Republican could have won this year; McCain lost because he was the type of moderate who can never make the party’s best case; and McCain lost because he was trying to appeal to the conservative base of the party rather than swing voters. There is no need to choose among these explanations: All are true. Each problem reinforced the others.

“Headwinds” was the Republican strategist’s cliché of the year, and they were indeed fierce. Even if President Bush had been popular and the economy been

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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