Mark McKinnon wrote a brilliant column earlier this week that everyone should read.

He asserts:

Steve Schmidt and his colleagues took John McCain further than he had any reasonable right to, given the political climate.

McKinnon reminds us of this obvious truism:

One of the physical laws of politics is that if your campaign wins, you’re a genius. If you lose, you’re an idiot.

I agree. Get off McCain.

Considering the daunting political geography, there were only two times over the past three years in which I thought the Republicans had a good shot at winning this election. The first instance was when the Jeremiah Wright revelation finally emerged as a public issue. I was convinced that the American people would never tolerate Wright's brand of incendiary race mongering. Of course, at the time, even then I saw it more as the end of Barack Obama rather than the Democrats. I fully expected Hillary to pick up the pieces and carry her party to victory in November.

In re Wright, my instinct (my absolute certitude) has never been more wrong. Why did the Wright episodes not sink Obama? The media supported their man during his two times of trial concerning his longtime pastor. First, the prObama press rallied around his excellent speech in Philadelphia, which cleverly clouded the issue of Wright by thoughtfully addressing the larger issue of race in America. Then, when Wright reinserted himself into the campaign with his insanely riveting performance at the National Press Club, the candidate reversed himself. After saying he could never disown Wright--Obama vehemently disowned him, and his fans in the mainstream media applauded and accepted the about-face in stride.

Then, in what may be the most amazing display of restraint in the history of American politics, John McCain decided early-on to declare the issue off limits. Why? Without a doubt, Obama's twenty-year relationship with Wright was a legitimate issue. Why? McCain correctly reasoned that the exploitation of Reverend Wright would so divide the American electorate along racial lines that victory would pale in comparison to the cultural damage. Country First. Amazing.

For this unprecedented magnanimity McCain gained what? Ironically, the mainstream media trafficked the ubiquitous notion of McCain as a negative campaigner who had lowered himself to ruthlessly, relentlessly, and unscrupulously attacking his virtuous opponent. Shame, shame, John McCain.

The second moment when I thought victory was attainable came with the advent of Sarah Palin. Her dynamic explosion onto the political scene completely transformed this campaign. For all the pundits who want to point to Palin as McCain's downfall, they should recall how low down the McCain fortunes were when Palin raised him up to parity with the Obama juggernaut.

If I have a complaint against McCain worth pressing at this point, it is my sense that his campaign squandered the potential of Sarah Palin--hiding her under a bushel.

Once the Palin phenomenon emerged, the opposition pushed back with everything they had--correctly comprehending that crushing Palin was "make or break" for Obama 2008. It was not pretty--but the opposition expertly destroyed her public persona. The all-out offensive included blatant lies, distortions, double standards, and a devastating doppelganger--Tina Fey-lin.

Don't blame McCain for selecting the Alaska governor. It was the most brilliant political coup of this new century. However, you can blame McCain for not pushing back hard enough and/or quick enough. You can also blame Team McCain for not giving the young maverick her head. Sarah Palin is incredibly formidable live and on the attack. She should have been running circles around the enemy in a series of guerrilla raids--not laying low or attempting to connect to the electorate through taped and edited interviews with nightly news anchors.

Having said that, McCain has been McCain--and I give him credit for a bully effort. In a year in which the Republican brand is all but discredited, McCain fought valiantly and honorably. In a year in which no straightforward Republican strategy had even a ghost of a chance at success, McCain ran a courageous insurgent campaign. Not perfect--but perfection is a little bit too much to ask in human kind. Well done, Johnny McCain.