On July 18, former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed was blown away by his more moderate opponent in the Georgia Republican primary race for lieutenant governor. Reed had hung his hat on a theme of "faith and family values."
Earlier this year, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore banked on his reputation as the self-proclaimed "keeper of the Ten Commandments" to get elected governor. He was pummeled in the GOP primary.
In Florida, the man I call the South's most charismatic "movie-star metrosexual," Attorney General Charlie Crist, will likely defeat longtime GOP officeholder Tom Gallagher in their primary race to replace Jeb Bush as governor. ("Metrosexual" isn't a slur, or even a reference to sexuality. It's a trendy new fashion term.)The able and likable Gallagher reportedly plans to intensify his own Ralph Reed-style campaign theme in an effort to overtake Crist, whom he trails in the polls. That will signal the beginning of the end of Gallagher's ultimate chances as well.
The list goes on.
All of this reflects a shift in sentiment among conservative voters.
Remember the "Reagan Democrats"? They threw Jimmy Carter out of the White House. It wasn't that they didn't believe he was a sincere Christian, or that he didn't have high moral character, as he often implied (when he wasn't openly proclaiming it).
It was because they saw him as unwilling to face reality. Carter had responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by expressing shock and disappointment. But that's pretty much all he did.
His response to an energy crisis was to ask everyone to don sweaters and turn down their thermostats.
As interest rates rose and the economy sank, Carter offered little in the way of concrete policy to countervail these trends.
In response to his collective nonresponse, practical-minded Democrats abandoned Carter and helped propel Republican Reagan into the office.
Switch to the present. With less than four months until the general election, the GOP-led Congress has been "holding hearings" on illegal immigration; "looking at" tax reform. As far as actual votes on actual bills -- or constitutional amendments -- they have reserved that for measures to protect the American flag and ban gay marriage, which is already illegal most everywhere.
As well-intended as all this may be, most of it appears to most of the public as so much fiddling while Rome burns.
Every national poll shows that Americans by wide margins hold the Republican-controlled Congress in very low esteem. Even in the conservative Deep South, more poll respondents prefer that Democrats control the Congress than they do Republicans.
Conservatives, don't shoot the messenger -- me! -- because of these numbers.
Instead, take to your phones and computers, and into the streets if necessary. Demand that Republican leaders find the resolve to act tangibly about tangible issues that people care about.
Real conservatives don't want amnesty for illegal aliens. And they don't want to wait for this crucial legislation while congressional incumbents stall past the elections.
Most conservatives want a drastic change in the federal tax system -- not promises to study the issue until death do us part.
Bluntly, the Republican Party appears divorced from the real world and determined to try to win the game with trick plays.
I respect President Bush's personal conviction on embryonic stem-cell research. And I know that we probably get one-sided media coverage of the merits of this research from its advocates.
But politically, it seems nuts to me that Congress would reverse course and suddenly support additional research, knowing full well that President Bush would bring the lot of them negative headlines by vetoing their bill.
It was the first veto of his six years in office, and he exercised it against a position that 60-plus percent of Americans support! Talk about bad press.
Take it from me -- I've seen election years when flags, faith and "they are too liberal" can win races for Republicans. And these issues will always sell books and draw radio callers.
But I've also seen years when too much apple pie gave the public a stomachache.
I know the Democrats have poor policy alternatives, when they have them at all. But much of the public doesn't necessarily know that -- or even care.
We're getting down to the nitty-gritty in electoral politics. The Republicans are trying to hold on to Congress. If they want a lesson in how to blow it, they need only look at recent primary election results in key spots across the nation.