The point of Michael Shear's post-mortem in today's Washington Post ("Right Turn in July Put McCain on Unfamiliar Path") is that John McCain ditched his "maverick" shtick only this summer:
Starting in July, McCain largely abandoned the well-known brand he had built over a decade: a moderate, steady, experienced maverick whose great political skill was in convincing independent voters that he was not just another Republican.
While I guess that makes for a more dramatic narrative, it doesn't really match reality: McCain made this decision several years ago, as he reversed his opposition to the Bush tax cuts, embraced Christian right figures he'd once denounced as intolerant, and so on. (See Extra!, 5-6/08.)
Shear also writes:
But many of those who have been closest to McCain said the financial crisis was politically devastating because the campaign's new strategy had robbed McCain of his image as an independent-minded lawmaker who could be trusted to bring an objective view to a major issue, such as Bush's financial rescue proposal. To voters, he seemed to be just another Republican who was part of the problem, they said.
This is a standard line coming from much of the media (and, of course, the McCain campaign): The economic meltdown wrecked his candidacy. The implication seems to be that there was something unfair about how reality intruded on McCain's public image. Was there was something that prevented McCain from taking a position on the market crash or the $700 billion bailout that would have resonated with voters? Or maybe–just maybe–John McCain actually is "just another Republican"?