McCain is facing a landslide loss to Barack Obama in the November 4 election, and now has an important choice to make. Should he and running mate Palin spend the last week beating the same terrorist, socialist horse -- knowing they won't reach the finish line in first place -- or is it time to regroup and redirect their efforts at staving off a Democratic takeover of the US Senate with their win of 60 seats and, in Palin's case at least, salvaging some hope for a 2012 run for the White House?
So much to do, so little time:
Aides to George W.Bush, former Reagan White House staff and friends of John McCain have all told The Sunday Telegraph that they not only expect to lose on November 4, but also believe that Mr Obama is poised to win a crushing mandate.
They believe he will be powerful enough to remake the American political landscape with even more ease than Ronald Reagan did in 1980.
The prospect of an electoral rout has unleashed a bitter bout of recriminations both within the McCain campaign and the wider conservative movement, over who is to blame and what should be done to salvage the party's future.
Mr McCain is now facing calls for him to sacrifice his own dwindling White House hopes and focus on saving vulnerable Republican Senate seats which are up for grabs on the same day.
Saving those Republican seats will mean moving out of the McCain/Obama battleground districts and refocusing campaign efforts and appearances towards those states and districts where efforts directed at saving the Republican seats in Congress will do the GOP the most good.
Here's my guess. Palin is way too vain to give up her quest, and is in fact right now "changing horses" in a sense, and focusing her campaigning efforts at salvaging her political image with respect to 2012. As many news reports this weekend mentioned, her aides say she's "Gone Rogue," is off the reservation, has tossed aside the $150,000 in costuming given to her by the GOP, and is now running her own race to the extent she's allowed to do so.
We may see the real Sarah Palin at last, but don't hold your breath expecting to be impressed -- this is the ethically-challenged ex-Mayor from small-town America who flip-flopped on the Bridge to Nowhere the second the polls swung against the project. Ultimately, there isn't much "there" there....
Second, John McCain won't allow himself to be refocused away from the presidency, in my estimation. He seems to genuinely believe that he's the quintessential scrapper, a "fight-to-the-finish" gung-ho soldier who will scrap and scramble for every last vote he can, using up every second left on the clock in the process.
Never mind that it's a hopeless cause. As his erratic campaign of the last two months clearly illustrates, McCain focuses on battlefield tactics instead of game-winning strategies.
In North Carolina, where Senator Elizabeth Dole seems set to loose, Republicans are running adverts that appear to take an Obama victory for granted, warning that the Democrat will have a "blank cheque" if her rival Kay Hagen wins. "These liberals want complete control of government in a time of crisis," the narrator says. "All branches of Government. No checks and balances."
Democrats lead in eight of the 12 competitive Senate races and need just nine gains to reach their target of 60. Even Mitch McConnell, the leader of Senate Republicans, is at risk in Kentucky, normally a rock solid red state.
A private memo on the likely result of the congressional elections, leaked to Politico, has the Republicans losing 37 seats.
Ed Rollins, who masterminded Ronald Reagan's second victory in 1984, said the election is already over and predicted: "This is going to turn into a landslide."
A former White House official who still advises President Bush told The Sunday Telegraph: "McCain hasn't won independents, nor has he inspired the base. It's the worst of all worlds. He is dragging everyone else down with him. He needs to deploy people and money to salvage what we can in Congress."
Fat chance, and many within the GOP recognize that - so the focus shifts towards Palin as the ship begins to sink:
Other Republicans have jumped ship completely. Ken Adelman, a Pentagon adviser on the Iraq war, Matthew Dowd, who was Mr Bush's chief re-election strategist, and Scott McClellan, Mr Bush's former press secretary, have all endorsed Mr Obama.
But the real bile has been saved for those conservatives who have balked at the selection of Sarah Palin.
In addition to Mr Frum, who thinks her not ready to be president, Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan's greatest speechwriter and a columnist with the Wall Street Journal, condemned Mr McCain's running mate as a "symptom and expression of a new vulgarisation of American politics." Conservative columnist David Brooks called her a "fatal cancer to the Republican Party".
The backlash that ensued last week revealed the fault lines of the coming civil war.
Rush Limbaugh, the doyen of right wing talk radio hosts, denounced Noonan, Brooks and Frum. Neconservative writer Charles Krauthammer condemned "the rush of wet-fingered conservatives leaping to Barack Obama", while fellow columnist Tony Blankley said that instead of collaborating in heralding Mr Obama's arrival they should be fighting "in a struggle to the political death for the soul of the country".
During the primaries the Democratic Party was bitterly divided between Barack Obama's "latte liberals" and Hillary Clinton's heartland supporters, but now the same cultural division threatens to tear the Republican Party apart.
Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin's critics as "cocktail party conservatives" who "give aid and comfort to the enemy".
He told The Sunday Telegraph: "There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?"
Mr Frum thinks that Mrs Palin's brand of cultural conservatism appeals only to a dwindling number of voters.
He said: "She emerges from this election as the probable frontrunner for the 2012 nomination. Her supporters vastly outnumber her critics. But it will be extremely difficult for her to win the presidency."
Mr Nuzzo, who believes this election is not a re-run of the 1980 Reagan revolution but of 1976, when an ageing Gerald Ford lost a close contest and then ceded the leadership of the Republican Party to Mr Reagan.
He said: "Win or lose, there is a ready made conservative candidate waiting in the wings. Sarah Palin is not the new Iain Duncan Smith, she is the new Ronald Reagan." On the accuracy of that judgment, perhaps, rests the future of the Republican Party.
Palin stands at the eye of a hurricane, with party futures swirling furiously around her. How she performs in the final week of the campaign will serve to define her future and that of the Republican Party.
Will she do the smart thing, and instead of just dropping symbolic trappings of a $150,000 wardrobe will she also drop the moronic "he's a socialist who pals with terrorists" script the McCain campaign has forced upon her, and start defining herself instead of smearing her opponents?
I don't think she's that smart, but time will tell. If she makes the right moves in these final days she may be able to salvage her national political future. If she makes the wrong move she'll find herself on a four year journey on a Bridge to Nowhere.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!