This graphic in the New York Times, slightly modified by Kevin Drum, speaks volumes:
By selecting Sarah Palin as VP, and my constantly speaking the rhetoric of the far right, McCain has lost what he needed to win this thing: the votes of the independents.
Kevin Drum suggests that McCain was in a no-win situtation from the get-go; that if he courted independents, he would lose conservatives, but if he courted conservatives (as he did), he would lose independents (as he did).
I disagree. First of all, conservatives would never go for Obama; they would, at worst, stay home and not vote. But McCain could have courted independents while still inspiring the conservatives to go to the polls. Selecting Romney as VP, for example, would have been fine with most conservatives, even though Romney is not as pro-life (for example) as they might like.
But the selection of Palin and the use of harsh demagogery (i.e., "liberals aren't 'real Americans'") turned off a lot of the political middle. Had McCain picked Romney, or even Thompson, as VP, and then run a campaign on issues rather than attacks on character, he would have pulled enough independents AND conservatives to make the race a lot closer than it is.
UPDATE: Poor Cindy McCain doesn't get it, and blames the media….
In an interview with Fox news that aired Monday night, Mrs. McCain said she thought the biggest difference between her husband's first presidential run eight years ago and his campaign this year was the media's attitude toward the Arizona senator's candidacy.
"What has really stunned me is the — quite honestly, is the kind of viciousness of the media on occasion," Mrs. McCain said. "In 2000 — there's certainly always been, you know, differences, and the — you know, the things that occur. But this has taken on a different tenor. And I don't know why and what's caused that, and I'm sorry for it because I think it turns a lot of young people off."
Oh, *I* know why, Cyndy. I just explained why.