Requiem for a Maverick

John McCain ran one of the most incompetent, schizo campaigns in history — and for that we owe him big-time

April 5, 2010 3:50 PM ET

This article originally appeared in RS 1066 from November 27, 2008. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

Election night at the Biltmore in Arizona is a hilariously dismal scene, like a funeral for a family member nobody liked, who died owing everyone money. The rats here are already bailing off the ship with lightning speed, like L.A. Dodgers fans leaving a playoff game to catch the latest episode of Entourage. The exodus, in fact, begins about eight seconds into John McCain's concession speech, which incidentally starts off on the classiest of notes: with the remaining crowd cursing the name of the new president.

"A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama," McCain begins.

"Boooooo!" bellows the crowd. Outside the hotel, a wine-drunk young woman in a fluffy white ball gown probably last worn at a Liberty University frat mixer angrily flings a would-be celebratory pompom she has been clutching into my face. "I can't listen to this shit!" she yells, scooting away.

I peel the plastic pompom bits off my face and stick them in my bag, where they are soon joined by a McCain-Palin "Victory 2008" Election Night T-shirt — bought for gloating purposes at a rapidly plummeting discount. Republican-souvenir prices haven't been this low since Watergate.

By the time McCain finishes his short, commendably gracious speech a few minutes later, almost all the Republican revelers have begun to flee the premises. The few who stick around are trying to suck the last value out of the meals and cocktails they so willingly overpaid for earlier in the night, when there was still a chance they'd end up with something to celebrate. At the hotel exit, a pair of Arizona State students are grumbling about the food.

"We paid, like, 10 bucks for a burger," says 18-year-old Emily Zizzo.

"We were outraged," agrees her 20-year-old friend Dori Jaffess.

I ask them why they think McCain lost. Dori says a big reason is that "a lot of big movie stars came out for Obama." I ask her which ones.

"Um, Puff Daddy?" she says. "Although I don't know if Puff Daddy came out for Obama."

"There's Oprah," adds Emily.

"Yeah, Oprah," says Dori.

A few yards away, a pair of thirtysomething women in an advanced wine slog have gotten into a screaming match with a Hispanic cameraman. One of them, 33-year-old Kristen McEntire, is already spinning out a conspiracy theory to explain McCain's defeat, suggesting that the media called the election in some key states before the polls closed, tricking hordes of would-be McCain voters into staying home. Obama, she assures me, is a "novelty" who will "go away within the next couple of years."

"Um," I say. "Go away?"

"I just don't think America's ready for a black president," she explains. "And I don't mean that in a racial way whatsoever."

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.