If Republicans fail to win back the White House and make gains in Congress with an economy this bad, then I say let the soul searching begin.

For almost all of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency, unemployment has stood at more than 8 percent. Home foreclosure rates have set records. Gasoline prices have been above $4 per gallon. And faced with the worst economic conditions in a generation, what did Obama do? He invested the bulk of his political capital in an intense focus on healthcare that resulted in a profoundly unpopular piece of legislation that did nothing for the economy.

In the face of such adversity, you’d think the incumbent would be poised for a defeat of landslide proportions. Instead, we’re locked in an extraordinarily tight race — so tight, in fact, that some observers are predicting that the electoral victor might actually lose the popular vote. Or worse yet, the candidates might be deadlocked with 269 electoral votes apiece, throwing the fate of the election into the House of Representatives and resulting in utter chaos.

And in Connecticut’s two most high-profile races for federal office — U.S. Senate and the 5th Congressional District — moderate Republicans who enjoy the advantages of either money or name recognition are running neck-and-neck with lesser financed or lesser known Democrats.

How could this be? Well, by now it should be obvious that the ultra-conservative flank of the GOP has achieved a national dominance that colors every step of the electoral process. To wit, since he started running for president in 2008, Republican nominee Mitt Romney has been engaged in the embarrassing spectacle of parading around the country pretending to be a government-hating right winger.

As people who really know Romney will tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. The man is a pragmatist and a problem solver. And his record as president of the Salt Lake City Olympics and governor of Massachusetts bears this out. Yet toward the end of his term as governor when he was already eyeing the presidency, Romney flip flopped on two hot-button social issues — abortion and same-sex unions — because he knew he would otherwise never get his party’s nomination.

On the strength of the insurgent Tea Party, the Republicans have shifted so far to the right that erstwhile conservatives like Ronald Reagan, who also raised taxes and expanded the size of government, would be considered a heretic but for the Tea Party’s passion for nostalgia over clear thinking. In the last couple of years, even mainstream conservatives like Sens. Orrin Hatch, Richard Lugar, and Robert Bennett were primaried from the right. Lugar and Bennett lost.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Connecticut — and elsewhere in the northeast — perform political contortions to avoid being associated with the wingnuts. GOP nominee for the 5th Congressional District Andrew Roraback is a self-styled “fiscally prudent, socially moderate Republican” who is a leader on the environment and women’s issues. However, lest he be branded a radical, the Yankee Republican feels compelled to distance himself from the famous Medicare plan of his own party’s vice presidential nominee. Still, almost daily he faces the charge from opponent Elizabeth Esty that he would be a rubber stamp for House Speaker John Boehner.

GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon almost never mentions the word “Republican” and markets herself as a “pro-choice, independent woman” — a particularly difficult dance, given the misogynistic smut produced by the professional wrestling company she used to run.

McMahon has pandered to the Tea Party, once saying she would entertain a “sunset provision” for Social Security, then feeling compelled to back away from that language after a withering attack from Democratic opponent Chris Murphy.

Pressed for specifics on what she would do to save the program, McMahon moaned that if she offered details, the news media would demagogue and distort her views beyond recognition. In other words, McMahon is so afraid that the truth would come out in advance of the election that she won’t say what she would do, if elected, to save the most popular social program in America? And she wants my vote?

But most shockingly, McMahon has released a new TV ad that puts as much daylight between her and the Republican Party as you can get. She’s appealing to those who are uncomfortable with Romney to vote for McMahon and Obama.

There you have it, fellow Nutmeggers. The GOP has veered so far right that one of its own nominees for U.S. Senate, desperate for acceptance, has thrown her party’s presidential nominee under the bus. And we wonder why the GOP has become a regional party and why Connecticut hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1988.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He can be found on Twitter @terrycowgill.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, is a Substack columnist and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him here.

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