A generation ago, the national Republican Party was under the command of the late Lee Atwater. With its personal-political attacks on opponents, the GOP back then knew how to play the roughest brand of political warfare anyone could remember.
But Atwater guerrilla warfare ended in the late 1980s. Since then, the GOP looks to have become a collection of naive choirboys. And they've watched as advocacy groups like MoveOn.org have combined forces with any number of Democratic-leaning blogs to fuel virulent, powerful political attacks against GOP candidates in the last weeks of the 2010 campaign.
Today's Republicans have to accept that all things are fair in love and war -- and politics is its own form of warfare.
The GOP showed hints that it understood this when, during the George W. Bush years, it did a masterful job of leveraging off of the issue of terror threats to boost the party's standing with voters. But all the while, those organizations that are left-of-center on the partisan spectrum made quantum leaps of progress in organizing and doing opposition research. They learned how to feed this excavated information to a press that was more numerous and diverse than ever -- and so more willing than ever to gobble up the information provided.
This isn't to say Republicans this year aren't running attack ads in some of the tough races around the country. They are. But they are being outpaced overall in this regard by the Democrats, and for a simple reason. Polling numbers -- now as much as ever this year -- are showing that the GOP likely will win back control of the U.S. House, possibly the U. S. Senate and definitely many governors races. So the Democrats more and more are having to turn to ads that sometimes have gotten personal. They're trying any way they can to beat the Republicans back to a more vulnerable position.
In some places, it's working. GOP U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell of Delaware will now forever be known as the teen witch of yesteryear. Her campaign missteps -- plus a little help from the Democrats in highlighting them -- have her trailing in the polls by as much as 20 percent.
In California, Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman has been slow-roasted in the news cycle over accusations that she once hired illegal aliens. But the fallout over this seems to be clearing up.