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Requiem for a Maverick

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It sounds strange to say, but this election season may have done to the word "Republican" what 1972 did for the word "liberal": turned it into a poisonous sobriquet that no politician with bipartisan aspirations will ever again welcome. The Republicans didn't just break the party — they left it smashed into space dust. They weren't just beaten; the very idea of Republican conservatism was massively rejected in virtually every state where large chunks of the population do not believe in the literal existence of a horned devil, and even in some that do.

They lost in every way imaginable, on every political front. The symbol of their anti-gay crusade, Colorado congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, was beheaded. The party that had made so much hay running against Mexicans saw noted anti-immigration crusader Bill Sali of Idaho ousted along with several other members of the Immigration Reform Caucus. The GOP's grasp on the so-called "moral values" issue likewise went up in roaring flames, with Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island the poster child — his morals were once so perfect that he refused to be seen with his gay sister, and now he's a national joke, bounced after being caught drunk driving and having unprotected, babymaking sex with a married Air Force officer.

The ironic thing is that the destruction of the Republican Party was a two-part process. Their president, George W. Bush, did most of the work by making virtually every mistake possible in his two terms, reducing the mightiest economy on Earth to the status of a beggar-debtor nation like Pakistan or Zambia. This was fucking up on a scale known only to a select few groups in history, your Romanovs, your Habsburgs, maybe the Han Dynasty, which pissed away a golden age of Chinese history by letting eunuchs take over the state. But John McCain and Sarah Palin made their own unique contribution to the disaster by running perhaps the most incompetent presidential campaign in modern times. They compounded a millionfold Bush's legacy of incompetence by soiling both possible Republican ideological strategies going forward: They killed off Bush-style neoconservatism as well as the more traditional fiscal conservatism McCain himself was once known for by trying to fuse both approaches into one gorgeously incoherent ticket. It was like trying to follow the recipes for Texas 10-alarm chili and a three-layer Black Forest chocolate cake in the same pan at the same time. The result — well, just take a bite!

I witness the whole pathetic mess summed up a week before the election, on a baseball field in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. The campaign has scheduled an outdoor rally, with a joint appearance by McCain and Palin, at this crucial moment in the race. But now there is driving snow and sleet, trees downed on roads all around, and the campaign — with no alternate indoor plan — is forced to cancel the event at the last minute. I watch as locals keep pulling up to the field, looking for the candidate, a lonely, rain-soaked "Country First" banner whipping back and forth above the stage. The whole scene captures the essence of the McCain run perfectly: Instead of a plan, they had an endless succession of dumb ideas scrapped at the 11th hour in favor of even dumber ones.

It was like that all election season. McCain kicked off his campaign with a stump speech that emphasized his inspirational personal story and experience. Then he picked someone even less experienced than Obama as his running mate and switched to a strategy of attacking his opponent's relationships with people like Bill Ayers. When that petered out, he switched to a new line of attack, trotting out the socialism business and claiming Obama was running for the office of "redistributionist-in-chief." The McCain camp tried running against the press, they tried running against Washington, they tried running against the Bush administration, they even tried ru

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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