If not for a major economic event that interceded a few weeks ago (for which a strong majority of voters blame Republicans), this race might still be competitive. It isn’t Steve Schmidt’s fault. It’s the economy, stupid.
Did being a Republican in a bad economy hurt McCain? Sure enough. Is that why his campaign tanked so spectacularly during the second week of September? Not even close.
Far more than the economy alone, it was his reaction to the economy that hurt McCain.
From early on, Obama seemed to grasp the fact that there were some fundamental problems with the economy, and a significant number of people were under financial stress. He didn't have a plan, but he had an understanding of the situation.
McCain, in contrast, believed, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." This, on the heels of campaign co-chair Phil Gramm's, claim that we are "a nation of whiners," and that this is a "mental recession." Though McCain tried to distance his campaign from those remarks, they simply continued the narrative he had been spinning for months, "a lot of our problems today, as you know, are psychological."
Never mind that his message was more nuanced, what people took away was that he just didn't get it. Nor did his response to the credit crisis inspire confidence. While Obama had no more of a plan than McCain, Obama didn't appear surprised or panicked. Again, McCain seemed to be caught off-guard by the economic reality, and his decision to suspend his campaign made him seem unwilling or unable to engage the voters on the topic.
The economy didn't have to hurt McCain. He let it hurt him. He made it hurt him. It's foolish to expect a guy with seven homes, a jet, and a dozen cars to share the pain of the middle class or poor. It would be condescending for McCain to pretend he feels the ill effects of the economy in the same way the working man does. Nobody expects, or wants, him to do that. Just don't tell us it's all in our head.