McCain soared a dozen points when he picked Palin, who seemed to Reagan Democrats to be "one of us." They came roaring back, but left for good when McCain declared the economy fundamentally sound and rushed to D.C. to persuade Republicans to vote for a huge bank bailout opposed by Americans 100 to 1.
How, then, to handle Sotomayor?
As Republicans have never brutalized a Supreme Court nominee -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg got 96 votes and Stephen Breyer 87 -- they need no lectures on decency or decorum.
What they must do is expose Sotomayor, as they did not in the case of Ginsburg, as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males to the degree necessary to bring about an equality of rewards in society.
Sonia is, first and foremost, a Latina. She has not hesitated to demand, even in college and law school, ethnic and gender preferences for her own. Her concept of justice is race-based.
Testifying to Democrats' awareness that America does not want liberal justices for whom affirmative action is holy writ, Sotomayor is being promoted as a practitioner of judicial restraint who faithfully follows the Constitution and the law.
Yet here is a judge who ruled that New York state, by denying felons the vote, violated their civil rights.
How so? As there are disproportionately more blacks and Hispanics in prison, denying convicts the right to vote has a disparate impact on minorities.
The New York law does discriminate, but not on the basis of race, but whether or not you raped, robbed or murdered someone.
Even if Sotomayor is confirmed, making the nation aware she is a militant supporter since college days of ethnic and gender preferences is an assignment worth pursuing. For America does not believe in preferences. Even in the blue states of California, Washington and Michigan, voters have tossed them out as naked discrimination against white males.
As Sotomayor would be a colorful personality in a bland liberal lineup of Ginsburg, Breyer and John Paul Stevens, she would stand out, like the co-ed-chasing "Wild Bill" Douglas in the 1960s and 1970s.
And if Republicans, in 2010 and 2012, can point to the court and say Sotomayor is their kind of justice, and Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas are our kind of justices, that will not be all bad.
Justice Douglas, Ramsey Clark and Jocelyn Elders, after all, did a whale of a lot of good for the Republican Party in days gone by.