As the political world recovers from the shock and awe of Barack Obama's impressive single-donor campaign contributions, a very important story slipped under the radar: The Republican brand is in trouble. The first stunning evidence of that is the fundraising.
As a group, Republicans traditionally have more money than Democrats. While everyone had a case of the vapors over Obama's ATM abilities, they ignored the GOP's lackluster dollar count. Those anemic numbers show how down-in-the-mouth and problematic its presidential field is. Still in a hangover from the 2006 midterm elections, the party lacks organization, energy, focus, purpose; maybe what it needs is a political Bloody Mary.
The other obvious problem is that Republicans need a new face on the party. For that to happen, George Bush needs to step back and let the country see how Democrats behave when they have the leadership. That will not happen easily with Bush, not even for the sake of his party. Why do you think he made all of those recess appointments? To send the message that he is relevant.
To make matters worse, no Republican leadership faces exist beyond Bush. Ask your average, mildly informed person who is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and most will know it is Howard Dean. Do the same for the head of the Republican National Committee, and you will probably get a blank stare.
It was the best thing the Democrats did with Dean. Love him or loathe him, at least Dean has a personality and a plan. Martinez? Not so much.
The Republican base is disgruntled with the party's lack of leadership, and that shows in the overall money raised. It shows in this "Great White Hope" philosophy that Republicans feel right now with a possible Fred Thompson candidacy. And it shows in the way conservatives and evangelicals are sitting on their hands.
Typically, Democrats are crying out for some savior who will swoop in to rescue everyone. The perfect example was the big flirtation with Wesley Clark in the last presidential cycle.
Now, Republicans are in search of their Gipper.
Fred Thompson is not the answer for the GOP as much as he puts a fine point on the fact that there is no solution, that there is a greater problem.
Here was a guy looked at for so long as not just the inevitable nominee, but as the inevitable next president. He seemed unstoppable; he had appeal as a maverick, as an independent; it was just a matter of waiting for him to set up in the Oval Office.
Now he is in the fight of his life for the nomination. He came in third in fundraising; he has lost the appeal that made him so appealing.
A fundamental problem exists with the Republicans' brand: They are in a shaky transition period, one in which they need to redefine what it means to be a mainstream conservative. For the longest time, the Republican Party stood for lower taxes, less government and a strong national defense, the principles of Ronald Reagan.
For now, it seems stuck in a crisis of midlife proportions.