Image: McCain
Robyn Beck  /  AFP-Getty Images
Sen. John McCain speaks at a campaign rally at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Monday.
By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 11/3/2008 2:39:13 PM ET 2008-11-03T19:39:13

If all of the polls are correct and John McCain does come up short on Tuesday, there's going to be a lot of finger pointing inside the Republican Party.

And a ton of Wednesday morning quarterbacking.

Expect this question to be asked heavily: Was it McCain's fault?

On one hand, this should be an easy answer. If it's McCain's name at the top of the ticket, then it's his fault. But you'd be a fool to ignore all of the various intangibles negatively affecting his campaign.

McCain is a literary guy so he may appreciate this comparison — there is something tragically Shakespearean about his plight.

Here's a guy who built his career being anti-establishment, anti-Republican, and according to some, even anti-conservative. He's also been pro-immigration reform, pro-media and pro-bipartisanship.

So how is he losing?

He's been tagged as pro-Bush, too status quo, too conservative, anti-Hispanic, and anti-media. He veered right with both his message and his vice presidential pick in the final weeks.

Realistically, the only thing in his control was that closing argument and Sarah Palin's selection. Everything else seemed out of his control.

Could the McCain of eight years ago or even four years ago be pegged as too close to Bush? How does the guy who fought his entire party on the issue of immigration see his polling among Hispanics plummet to a 10-year low for Republicans?

Video: Romney: McCain's pulled through before Now take a look at the battleground map. It's one that has shifted decidedly against him in ways that seem unfair or surprising given what many thought a McCain nomination could do for the GOP.

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Then there's the case of New Hampshire and the entire Southwest. How can he be on the verge of losing both?

He's the first nominee from the West since Reagan, yet it could be that region that does him in.

As for New Hampshire, imagine McCain losing the presidency narrowly, by three or four electoral votes, and it's that state that makes the difference.

New Hampshire created him in 2000, resurrected him in 2008, and could end up possibly destroying him in the end.

Ultimately, I believe that politics is about timing.

McCain's ideal time is not this year — it was 2000. Given the circumstances of that year, I've always believed that Gore would have been trounced by McCain.

Of course this happens to a lot of failed presidential candidates — they are either ahead of, or behind, their time. Hillary Clinton ran four years too late. Bill Bradley was eight years too late. I could go on.

So, flash forward 10 years ... if Obama does indeed win, what will McCain be muttering when he wakes up in the middle of the night wondering why he lost?

Will it be "Palin!"? Will it be "Wall Street!"? Will it be "Rev. Wright!"? Or will it simply be the name he's been muttering for years, "Bush!"?

Someone asked me this week which state Tim Russert would be writing down (three times) on his white board. Colorado? Virginia? Florida?

My answer? It's not a state. Tim would simply be writing down one simple four letter word: "Bush, Bush, Bush."

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