Sarah Palin was a mistake, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, but it was the economy that sank John McCain. The Republican was ahead in the presidential polls until the week in early September when Lehman Brothers collapsed. As the financial system went off a cliff, people sought shelter in government, "and offering the comfort and safety of government is the Democratic Party's vocation."

"That's the partisan Republican spin on the dreadful McCain campaign," said Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic online. But McCain was always down in the polls, except for a "brief post-convention bump." If conservatives can't see that "their bet on Palin" was a "cynical campaign hood-ornament move" that was "too cynical for a country seriously grappling with a multiple crises, then they will not understand why their side lost so badly."

The real reason, strictly speaking, was neither the economy nor Palin, said Gary L. Jarmin in The Washington Times. It was "the unpopularity of his party's incumbent president, George W. Bush." Bad economic times always taint the party in control in the White House, and McCain failed to use his maverick image to distance himself from Bush, which allowed Obama to tie "the president like an albatross around McCain's neck."

McCain knew he was gambling by sidelining his well-known maverick "brand," said Michael D. Shear, also in The Washington Post. But his advisers told him this summer that he had a choice—keep campaigning as the same "moderate, steady, experienced maverick" and lose by two or three percentage points, or take the gloves off and either win or lose in a landslide. McCain just went for broke, and lost.