It's not terribly often that I read a Peggy Noonan piece with which I have just about no disagreement at all, but Nooners hits it out of the park in this WSJ Online-er Declarations column noting that there is a party in huge disarray now facing a world of hurtin' come November... and it ain't the Democrats.
They are also – [Republican] Hill leaders, lobbyists, party speakers – successful, well-connected, busy and rich. They never guessed, back in '86, how government would pay off! They didn't know they'd stay! They came to make a difference and wound up with their butts in the butter. But affluence detaches, and in time skews thinking. It gives you the illusion you're safe, and that everyone else is. A party can lose its gut this way.
Many are ambivalent, deep inside, about the decisions made the past seven years in the White House. But they've publicly supported it so long they think they . . . support it. They get confused. Late at night they toss and turn in the antique mahogany sleigh bed in the carpeted house in McLean and try to remember what it is they really do think, and what those thoughts imply.
And those are the bright ones. The rest are in Perpetual 1980: We have the country, the troops will rally in the fall.
"This was a real wakeup call for us," someone named Robert M. Duncan, who is chairman of the Republican National Committee, told the New York Times. This was after Mississippi. "We can't let the Democrats take our issues." And those issues would be? "We can't let them pretend to be conservatives," he continued. Why not? Republicans pretend to be conservative every day.
What happens to the Republicans in 2008 will likely be dictated by what didn't happen in 2005, and '06, and '07. The moment when the party could have broken, on principle, with the administration – over the thinking behind and the carrying out of the war, over immigration, spending and the size of government – has passed. What two years ago would have been honorable and wise will now look craven. They're stuck.
Mr. Bush has squandered the hard-built paternity of 40 years. But so has the party, and so have its leaders. If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party's fortunes from the president's. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn't be left with a ruined "brand," as they all say, speaking the language of marketing. And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership.
This is and will be the great challenge for John McCain: The Democratic argument, now being market tested by Obama Inc., that a McCain victory will yield nothing more or less than George Bush's third term.
That is going to be powerful, and it is going to get out the vote. And not for Republicans.
From your lips to the electorate's ears, Ms. Noonan... we shall see. But once again, Democrats who are content to be at each other's throats for the moment, please note that either of our remaining candidates is eminently electable, will quite frankly have a huge leg-up going into the general election in the fall, and either candidate will be blessed with healthy Congressional majorities as well as a mandate, and the nation is ready for some dramatic progressive reforms. Heady times... if we keep our eyes on the prize.