Nobody has come right out and said it, but the Republicans are going to lose in November for one very simple reason: they are divided among themselves on the most important issue in the election, the economy.
The bailout debate simply splintered the Republican Party. In my state of Kentucky, the six most prominent Republicans in the state are right down the middle: three-three, with the two senators, Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell, finding themselves on opposite sides. This is going on around the country.
The split is not only the effect of confusion, it is the cause of confusion among the electorate, who are sensing that the Republican Party doesn't know what it is about. You simply can't win an election without a coherent message, and you can't have a coherent message without a coherent philosophy--and the Republican Party no longer has one. The Republican Party uses the image of Ronald Reagan the way Kentucky Fried Chicken uses the image of Colonel Sanders: not because they cook food the way he did (they don't), but because his image give the general impression that they do.
In the case of the bailout plan, a Republican president proposed the plan; on the other hand, a Democratic Congressional leadership helped promote it. On the one hand, the majority of rank and file House Republicans opposed it; on the other hand, the Republican nominee for president supported it. And both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates took the same position on the issue.
The only recipe here is for total electoral confusion, a confusion the Democrats benefit from because at least their consistent--consistently wrong, but consistent.
The Republicans had nothing politically to gain from supporting the bailout. Support for the plan just means that they are indistinguishable from the Democrats. They can talk all they want to about how the Democrats were responsible, but confused voters will still wonder why they both have the same solution.
Here's the chief problem for the Republicans: their chief domestic policy themes for decades have been fiscal restraint and free market economics. These were the positions that marked them off from their Democratic opponents and that brought them success with Ronald Reagan. But George W. Bush scuttled the first issue by massive increases in federal spending during his two terms in office, and McCain, although feigning support for fiscal restraint, has scuttled the second issue by supporting the bailout.
Republicans are left confused about what exactly they are supposed to stand for economically, and why they should vote for Republicans over Democrats. The Democrats on the other hand, with a few exceptions, they are united on the bailout bill. And why shouldn't they be? It is a pure big government solution--completely consistent with everything they have stood for for years.
How can the Republicans win when the chief economic crisis of our times (which crested, ironically, right in mid-presidential campaign) was resolved on liberal Democratic economic principles, and half of the party that supposedly stands on conservative principles joined arms with them?