What were the biggest mistakes of the McCain campaign? Most everyone will cite the candidate's sudden decision during September's financial crisis to suspend his campaign and rush to Washington, D.C., where he proved an ineffective stage manager for Congressional Republicans leery of the first bailout package.
A survey of Republican strategists and officials yielded the following runner-up contenders for worst campaign failure:
1) Sarah Palin's handling by the McCain staff was abysmal, even if all the stories about her alleged flightiness were true. She was carefully held back from media interviews, then made her debut in a shaky interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson. Then it was decided to have her sit down next with CBS's Katie Couric, whose network was given freedom to edit and promote the interview in such a way as to cause her maximum embarrassment.
2) The McCain campaign never had an effective get-out-the-vote effort. When Republican National Committee officials met with McCain staffmembers in May, they were shocked that McCain aides had little interest in the RNC's vaunted voter contact list. McCain representatives assured RNC officials that the election wouldn't be won with Republicans, but with independents and moderates.
In the end, the McCain campaign stripped away funding for its get-out-the-vote efforts in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania and replaced them with high-cost TV ads. The results were not good. Mr. Obama romped to a solid 55% victory in the Keystone State.
3) John McCain himself took off the table the option of airing TV ads critical of Mr. Obama's association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Former Democratic consultants Dick Morris and Bob Beckel both agree that Mr. McCain unwisely and artificially circumscribed his campaign. "The Wright issue could have been framed as a judgment issue rather than as a racial issue," Mr. Beckel told me. "But they boxed themselves in only to discover that by comparison with 2004, there were few if any outside groups running independent ad campaigns critical of Mr. Obama's history and record."
It's not uncommon for losing campaigns quickly to descend into finger-pointing and recriminations once the election results are in. But some on the McCain campaign staff seem more eager than most to settle scores. I received at least three phone calls last night from McCain staffers who seemed to want to use me as a conduit for their complaints about the campaign.
Campaigns come and go, but political reputations in Washington have to be protected at all costs.
-- John Fund