So now the Republican theme is "repeal," meaning trash the massive, confusing health insurance reform law just passed by paper-thin majorities in Congress.
There is no chance whatever the GOP can win repeal before 2013. The repeal theme will be sounded anyway to raise money, keep right-wing skinheads smashing windows and help entertainers like Rush Limbaugh rake it in.
Republicans absolutely know they will retake Congress this November. To measure their real chances, it helps to trace how the Republican appeal to the middle class has withered. Not what each individual candidate is saying or even believes, but what highly paid message meisters serve up as frightening national social themes.
Another way is to list the issues that the Republicans surrendered to the Democrats or special interest groups over time.
The GOP message abandoned racial equality in the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign. Peace and nuclear disarmament had become a no-no in the Goldwater campaign in 1964, along with interest in the United Nations and international justice.
Bread-and-butter citizen issues such as product safety, truth in advertising and integrity in the banking and investment businesses fell under the bus during the Bush-Cheney years. Republicans could have played these as private property concerns.
Since 1975, utter scorn for integrating urban centers prompted Republicans to shun worries about sprawl and mass transit and side with a handful of real estate developers.
The GOP parlayed contempt for automatic weapons control into a presidential victory in 2000.
They're newly big on frugality, but only those born after the Republicans passed tax cuts for the rich and created the largest deficit in history in the oughts take them seriously.
So what's left? President Obama's screw-ups on the terrorism front, the recession he inherited, his race and a big, messy health insurance law that will do little to rein in premium rates.
Now, Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the message men believe they can nurture a cult of selfishness -- that they can glorify indifference to poverty, to unemployment, to the sick and vulnerable and to aliens into a winning theme for this November, and for 2012.
America is now "hanging by a thread," says Limbaugh in the wake of the most massive defeat of conservatives in four decades.
"It's 9/1 1 all over again except we didn't have the collapsing buildings," says Beck.
Hardliner contempt for moderation is growing in influence, as shown by the dismissal of conservative commentator David Frum from a right-wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Frum's sin was writing that Republicans sacrificed policy to politics and lost the health care fight.
It signals a return to the ugly Goldwater Republicanism that Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan did much to modify.
Fox News analyst Dick Morris warns that Obama is "going to adopt the entire socialist program by essentially circumventing the Constitution." This is code for the GOP theme that Obama is actually a black alien, or a mole from Muslim East Asia.
This talk has generated a lot of heat, and not a little violence. Whether wedge politics and grossness will work in a time of increasing economic troubles for millions of families is the big question. In any event Limbaugh, Morris, Beck, Sean Hannity and perhaps Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, and the Washington political consultants are making big money off it.
It has frightened some sensible Republicans, like Rep. Chris Lee, R-Williamsville, into showing up at Tea Party rallies.
The success of their efforts hinges on the size of the goon vote. It's out there, according to an online Harris Interactive poll, March 1-8. It suggests that 40 percent of Americans think Obama is a socialist, 32 percent say he is Muslim and 14 percent think he is the anti-Christ.