I get in regular debates with panicked friends who think that Republicans will hold the White House next year. The accelerant for the fear is an unproveable, which leaves us treading water until the election: the American electorate, as evidenced by the '04 results, are stupid and terrified, and so will ultimately always succumb to the most autocratic Daddy in the Daddy party. Thus do they most fear Rudy.
Early signs seemed to bear the fear out; Rudy was holding tough in the polls and had sizeable advantages in Dixie, where one would expect he would be most weak. (Tellingly, in New York, he gets killed by Hillary.) Nevermind that voters had used abortion and gays to guide them for 20 years, now that their man was for the wrong one and against the right one, they'd line up behind him. The smell of polished leather is a powerful political aphrodesiac.
But the theory appears to be breaking apart. Rudy, who began the year at 35-40% in the polls, has slipped to 25%. And now that Fred Thompson is in the race, it's a dead heat. Early primaries? Giuliani's numbers are dropping like a stone and he is trailing in Iowa (Romney leads), New Hampshire (Romney and McCain lead) and South Carolina (Thompson leads). He's leading only in Florida. But trend lines across the board are down for him.
It looks like Republicans are going to trade Rudy in for Fred Thompson, hoping that if they photoshop in some hair and squint really hard, they can make him look like Reagan. But even yellow silk ties and shoulder pads aren't going to bring the 80s back. This is the desperation of a fading party--looking for a candidate to save them rather than falling back on the machine. In 2000, they were strong enough to run a half-wit who literally didn't know who the Indian PM was. They didn't have to sink all their hopes in a bald man from an aging TV show.
Finally, the thing that is most convincing is that in head to heads, Obama and Hillary regularly are in the margin of error of GOP candidates, and often beat them. Think about that. Obama, who's polling in the low twenties among Dems, beats the Republicans. Last week's LA Times poll had Obama beating McCain by 12%, Romney by 16%, and Giuliani by five. If you're a Republican, that's a big problem.
Lots can happen, but I'm no longer buying the hype: the GOP is going to have to pull off a miracle to win in '08.