Those old-timers have been replaced everywhere in the party architecture by young zealots who are treating each election like a blogosphere flame war. Earlier this year, the Tennessee GOP chair sent out a press release connecting Obama to Louis Farrakhan, titled “Anti-Semites for Obama,” and included such touches as an emphasis on Obama’s middle name and the Internet-circulated photo of Obama in traditional Kenyan garb. Virginia’s GOP chair recently exhorted canvassers to tell voters that Obama is like Osama bin Laden, because both have friends who bombed the Pentagon. Mississippi’s GOP chair said last year that, though Democratic candidates “will say they are like you,” once elected “they will vote with the black caucus.” In California, the Sacramento County GOP chair posted racist anti-Obama slurs, including a call to “waterboard Barack Obama.”

Nevertheless, many of the party’s centrist members held out hope — particularly as the relatively responsible McCain managed to gain the presidential nomination over a ragtag field of creationists, global-warming-deniers, immigrant-bashers, flat-tax-proponents, and Iraq War–praisers ideologically and intellectually indistinguishable from any random half-dozen bloggers at redstate.com or townhall.com.

The hopes of these moderates were dashed by McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin for his running mate, which, though it got much media attention for “rallying the base,” also has served as the breaking point for many less-firebrand Republicans. Former secretary of state Colin Powell and former Massachusetts governor William Weld are just two of the latest Republicans to openly endorse Obama, many citing the Palin selection.

“The choosing of Sarah Palin was enormous,” says Chafee, who has also endorsed Obama.

Their disenchantment stems not so much from Palin’s lack of qualifications, but from her simple-minded beliefs in the same nonsense spouted on right-wing talk radio and the blogosphere.

Republicans like Powell, and many others, seem stunned that the party has come to this. If so, they have been kidding themselves. McCain seized the nomination only by sucking up to the rabid right on immigration, torture, and religion. And it has been reported that, when McCain sent out feelers, late in the summer, that he might select Tom Ridge, an eminently qualified and serious popular governor of a critical swing state, he was told that many other states’ delegations would walk out of the convention in protest. McCain’s own delegates to the Republican National Convention would rather destroy the ticket than accept a pro-choice vice-president. The radical kooks are in full control. Stay in your homes!

To read the “Talking Politics” blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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