And all this before Republicans face a financial onslaught in the fall from Democratic independent expenditures, left-wing 527s, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. If Republicans lose another 20 seats in the House, they'll be down roughly 70 overall, and if Obama wins the presidency on top of it, as the NBC political tipsheet "First Read" has noted, "it will be the biggest mandate any Democrat has had for governing since LBJ in '64."
The chairman of the NRCC, Tom Cole, hasn't tried to minimize the implications of the Mississippi loss. In a conference call with reporters the next day, he said so often that the public has lost confidence in Republicans that it could have been a Democratic call. Republicans readily admit that they have work to do reformulating their agenda, but are at a loss as to how exactly to go about it.
For now, they'll have to hope that John McCain finds a way to distance himself from his party and pick up independents while not losing his own base. Philippe Petit, who famously did a high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center, had a less treacherous course. Over the longer run, they have to become identified with a domestic-reform agenda on health care, energy and family income that addresses middle-class concerns.
But renovating a party's public standing isn't the work of a few months. At least time in the minority provides opportunity for reflection.