Carol Platt Liebau

2. Campaign finance “reform” will always have a disproportionately negative impact on Republicans.

In one of politics’ great ironies, the campaign finance reform legislation that John McCain created ultimately crippled his campaign (especially after Barack Obama broke his word and declined public financing). Given the press’ liberal leanings, laws that stifle competing voices have a disparate – and negative – impact on Republicans, who need independent campaigns to counter the media’s influence and get the conservative message out. Unfortunately, McCain-Feingold has inhibited independent campaigns, thereby enhancing the press’ position as the dominant provider of political information to voters.

3. Republicans can’t win over Latinos through appeals on the illegal immigration issue.

John McCain never regained the support among rank-and-file Republicans that he squandered by his advocacy of McCain-Kennedy immigration “reform,” which would have effectively offered amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Whether or not it proved decisive in his defeat, the lack of enthusiasm among the base certainly hurt McCain.

So what did he gain politically from his advocacy of the “path to citizenship”? Not much. In fact, 67% of Latinos backed Barack Obama. Latino immigrants favored Obama by a 78% margin, lending crucial support in states like Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. The moral of the story: Republicans will never be able to win over Latinos by aping Democrat positions on illegal immigration. Democrats support legalizing poor and under-educated people already in this country in the hope that they will become new clients of an expanded welfare state, and hence reliably Democratic voters. Mimicking liberal enthusiasm for legalizing illegal immigrants only puts Republicans in a perpetual “me too but less” posture that ultimately gains them nothing.

Certainly the GOP must do more to make sure that Latinos understand that their opposition to illegal immigration has nothing to do with hostility either to immigration in general or Latinos in particular; rather, it is about honoring the rule of law. But even more importantly, along with continuing their support for the traditionalist social positions embraced by most Latinos, Republicans need to explain why economic freedom and small government will do more than government handouts to help hard-working and upright new citizens achieve the American dream.

If Latino outreach becomes nothing more than a bidding war over government benefits, the Democrats will always win. What Republicans need to find is a message that helps the debate break out of that box – and the communicators to deliver it effectively.

4. “Mavericks” end up leading a party of one.

For almost his entire Senate career, John McCain prided himself on his status as a “maverick.” In doing so, however, he alienated a good number of regular Republicans who would have contributed more and worked harder to elect a candidate about whom they were more enthused.

“Mavericks” like McCain seek and welcome the support of independents. Unfortunately for McCain, however, independent voters are the ones who are most driven by events, rather than ideology. Had he run at the end of the tenure of an unpopular Democrat president, McCain might have been fine. Instead, he was left with a base that was more excited about its vice-presidential nominee than the presidential one, and a horde of independents who – in light of the financial crisis and the long, unpopular tenure of President Bush – decided to take a chance on “change.”

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Whatever the flaws in the conception or execution of his campaign, certainly John McCain is a brave and honorable man who has served his country with distinction. Perhaps even in defeat, he may likewise do his party a service – if its members can learn the hard lessons his loss has taught all of us this year.

Carol Platt Liebau

Carol Platt Liebau is an attorney, political commentator and guest radio talk show host based near New York. Learn more about her new book, "Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Hurts Young Women (and America, Too!)" here.