In many ways, both parties are at a crossroads. The Dems are clearly heading down the Dukakis/Olbermann/Krugman path, drifting further left, and even such party veterans as Joe Biden, Tom Daschle and Bill Richardson have lined up behind Barack Obama. As a result, the party has chosen to steer clear of the comparative centrism of the Clintons, Wesley Clark and Evan Bayh.
The Republicans had a half-dozen legitimate contenders for the nomination, each purporting to take the party down a different road than everyone else. As the Bush era mercifully crashes to an end, it is clear that the current administration, and its various enablers along the way (Bill Frist, Trent Lott and Roy Blunt, just to name a few), have severely damaged the GOP. The Republican brand, after mismanagement of the Iraq conflict, out-of-control deficit spending and enormous blunders like Katrina, the handling of FISA and the Terri Schiavo episode, is at its most toxic since Watergate.
Bush's disapproval rating sits at 71%, the highest of any president since polling started in the 1920s. The GOP stands to lose congressional seats it's held for a generation or more, and the GOP's lone hope on Election Night is a man who many on the right have spent decades assailing.
The GOP needs a rebranding. It's no coincidence that two of the country's most popular governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist, have governed from near the center. Neither practices slash-and-burn, divide-and-conquer Roveian politics, and neither panders to the likes of James Dobson and Sean Hannity. Both are socially moderate, fiscally conservative, and are genuinely concerned about rooting out corruption and reaching across party lines -- incidentally, none of those characteristics apply to President Bush.
McCain now can begin to redefine the GOP in his own image -- instead of pandering to the Huckabee wing of the party, shift the focus away from social issues; instead of enabling the likes of Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, David Vitter and especially Tom DeLay, root out corruption at every turn; instead of spending recklessly, practice fiscal sanity and responsible government; instead of allowing the Democrats to set the debate, craft plausible solutions to solve the energy and health-care problems America faces; and instead of intending to govern with a 51% majority, reach across the aisle and forge bipartisan solutions that members of both parties can get behind.
A former staffer of one of McCain's rivals, per Jonathan Martin at Politico:
"Not raising money, still no excitement, can't seem to get his footing, the Bush brand is toxic, and yet it still looks like he can win. All that is so John McCain."
So to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, John Hawkins, Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, John Cornyn, James Dobson and the rest of McCain's detractors: You have blindly followed your president over a cliff, defended him at every turn, and your party now sits in tatters, bracing for perhaps the biggest pounding in a generation. All the while, you have attempted to crucify the one member of your party (outside of Schwarzenegger) who can re-brand conservatism and deliver you from an Obama presidency by virtue of his enormously broad appeal. If you had your wish with the phony Romney or the patronizing Huckabee, the GOP would be looking at the most crushing of defeats.
You've had your say, and the party is worse off because of it. It's time to shut your mouths, get behind McCain and quietly pull the lever.