The $64,000 political question is what, if anything, will energize the Republican Party?
An undercurrent attitude is taking hold that it's inevitable that the White House in 2008 will follow the Congress and fall into the hands of the Democratic Party.
Republicans, already in a funk, get deeper into it as they contemplate this prospect, and are radiating a sense of impotence about what to do. The existing field of presidential candidates is not inspiring confidence and the question seems to be who will be the sacrificial lamb rather than who will be the contender.
Dollars are flowing in record proportions to Democrats. Democratic presidential candidates raised 50 percent more funds than Republicans in the first quarter.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats are getting the majority of contributions from corporate Political Action Committees for the first time since 1994. According to the Journal, Democrats, who pulled in around a third of corporate PAC funds in the previous election cycle, got 56.5 percent of these funds in the first quarter of this year.
Inside the Washington political establishment, high-powered lobbying firms are retooling and bringing in new Democratic partners to get ready for the new era.
Fred Thompson's recent lethargic performance at the Lincoln Club in Orange County, Calif., didn't help. Thompson sounded more like a concerned elder statesman contemplating the country's problems over cigars and brandy than someone who is losing sleep about the direction of the country.
So what's the diagnosis? Can anything be done or must Republicans resign to an inevitable ebb and flow of history and accept that, for the time being, their time is up?
It's here where the supreme, and most grating, irony lies.
Republican success since the rise of Reagan has been defining a bankrupt Democratic Party, out of step with American values of freedom and limited government, and offering an alternative.
To recall Reagan's oft-quoted observation at the CPAC conference in 1985, "The tide of history is moving irresistibly in our direction. Why? Because the other side is virtually bankrupt of ideas. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate. It has spent its intellectual capital."
The difference between the Democratic Party in 2007 and 1985 is absolutely zero.
Democrats have not generated a single new idea. They're all about government and taxes today as they were in 1985.
What's new now is Republicans, not Democrats. Republicans have purged the alternative vision that made their party fresh and exciting.
Back to Fred Thompson's speech in Orange Country as case in point.
The former senator from Tennessee devoted a good portion of his remarks to boilerplate phrases and buzzwords that appeal to a conservative crowd ("Wouldn't it be great if, instead of worrying so much about how to divide the pie, we could work together on how to make the pie bigger?")
But Thompson did take a brave step into substance and this was most revealing and concerning. "...there is nothing more urgent than the fate that is awaiting our Social Security and Medicare programs." What's his answer? "If grandmom and granddad think that a little sacrifice will help their grandchildren when they get married, try to buy a home or have children, they will respond to a credible call to make that sacrifice..."
Thompson is supposed to be the guy to fill the Reagan void. Can anyone imagine Reagan saying anything like this?
I'm not talking about peddling any free lunches to deal with the $70 trillion Medicare-Social Security overhang. I'm talking about the courage to be honest about what's wrong with these programs that has gotten us into this mess. Government planning and social engineering.
What happened to the Reagan message that too much government is our problem, restoring ownership and choice, and applying this truth to the entitlement monster and public education as we did when we reformed welfare?
Americans can walk and chew gum. We can talk about things beyond the war. But to do so requires that our politicians display the same courage at home that we're asking our young men and women to put on the line overseas.
The social engineering experiments that our country took on in the last century are failed and busted. Republicans need to get back on message. They seem to have lost the conviction and fortitude to do this, which is why the thrill is gone.
But if Republicans insist on morphing into Democrats, Americans will vote for the real thing.