"Fear not, for the worst is yet to come" has never had a more optimistic ring, at least for Republicans.
To be sure, the GOP has had a long winter. Its once filet mignon brand name now ranks somewhere between store-brand potted meat and past-date Spam. Its standard-bearer, John McCain, wasn't exactly a first-round draft pick. The relatively few GOP congressmen who aren't retiring are currently loading up on canned goods and bottled water as they prepare to hole up in their minority-status bunker.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has not been better poised for victory in generations. Its members are unified on the issues. With the exception of the flat-broke Democratic National Committee, which Howard Dean has run with Enronesque aplomb, Democratic campaign coffers overflow with cash like Tony Montana's counting room in "Scarface." War and talk of war have exhausted many Americans. The economy is belching black smoke from under the hood. This is the first time since 1824 that we've had consecutive eight-year presidencies, and voters are desperate for a change. The Democratic Party, by luck of the draw for the most part, is the party of change. And, of course, most of the media yearns to see the Republicans go.
Despite all of this, the Democrats are poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with the gravity-defying artistry of an acrobat clutching the trapeze bar at the last possible moment.
Here's how failure might gloriously unfold. Hillary Clinton is losing the formal contest for the Democratic nomination. But in the contest of wills between Barack Obama and Clinton, she is clearly the more formidable opponent. G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon's famous gladiator, would hold his arm over a candle flame until his skin blackened, such was his unflinching will. Clinton is the Nixonian in the race ("Nixon in a pantsuit," as some call her). She will hold her hand over the proverbial flame not only until her flesh is singed, but until her whole party burns to the ground.
To continue mixing, mashing and mangling metaphors, she's playing a game of chicken, gambling that Obama will turn first in order to spare the party a deadly collision. When one of Obama's aides said that Clinton is a "monster" who will do anything to win, she may have been too glib with the M-word, but she was certainly right about the "anything" part.
And therein lies the ray of sunshine piercing the darkness for Republicans. If Clinton keeps this going to the convention, the nomination will largely be left to the whims of the party hackocracy. Clinton most likely cannot catch up in either the popular vote or in the normal delegate count. But she can certainly win by skullduggery and intimidation.
So imagine she wins the nomination. Obama's supporters will be vexed, to say the least. Clinton, who hoped not only to win the nomination in a cakewalk but to enter the general election as a plausible moderate and centrist, will be put in the position of having to placate many of the most important left-wing constituencies of her party: wealthy liberals, young people and, most of all, African-Americans.
This means that at precisely the moment she needs to move right toward the center, she will need to move left to shore up an angry base. In other words, the Democratic Party would nominate the most polarizing candidate possible (roughly half the country already says it will never vote for her), who will have to become even more polarizing in order to appease aggrieved Obama voters.
Meanwhile, she would be facing a GOP candidate with a sterling record of winning the support of moderates, independents and even Democrats. Both McCain and Clinton would probably enter the race with, say, 47 percent of the vote already in their pockets. So, who would be better positioned to win a majority of the undecided middle-of-the-roaders? Hillary Clinton, the scandal-plagued Assassin of Hope, or John McCain, Mr. Bipartisan War Hero?
Of course, this isn't necessarily the most likely scenario. Obama still seems poised to best Clinton. But I wouldn't put it beyond the Clintons to sabotage Obama in the general election, if for no other reason than to keep Hillary's chances for 2012 alive.
No one knows what will actually happen. But for the first time in a while, Republicans have reason to hope that the gleam of light on the horizon might just might be a new dawn and not an oncoming train.