[Cross-posted on Poll Dancing]

The conservative Web sites are near-hysterical about the prospect of McCain as the GOP nominee. Thomas Sowell, a notable conservative author, writes on the Web site GOPUSA, a Texas-based operation:

When confronted with any of his misdeeds, Senator McCain tends to fall back on his record as a war hero in Vietnam.

Let’s talk sense. Benedict Arnold was a war hero but that did not exempt him from condemnation for his later betrayal.

and more …

McCain was one of “the Keating five” — Senators who used their influence to try to protect a failing savings & loan company, which also became the subject of a corruption investigation.

During the 2000 primaries, the Associated Press reported Senator McCain’s joking about people with Alzheimer’s.

This went beyond bad taste because (1) it was known at the time that Ronald Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer’s and (2) the media to whom McCain was pandering hated Ronald Reagan.

Then former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert piled on. This is the lead to a story in the Baltimore Sun:

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert questioned John McCain’s Republican credentials today, saying he was always known among the GOP as “the undependable vote” in the Senate and always “allied with Democrats.”

To which RedState.com replies:

Denny Hastert should throw no stones. Given Denny Hastert’s inept management of the House, his siding with William Jefferson in his scandal, and his love of earmarks, he is not the messenger to attack John McCain.

Denny Hastert bashing John McCain is like a burglar bashing the police. For every tax payer dollar Denny Hastert was willing to let out the door for frivolous purposes, John McCain and Tom Coburn fought to keep in the treasury for better purposes.

They’re eating their own.

Here’s Rush Limbaugh, whose home page features a photo of McCain surrounded by Ahnuld and Rudy under the headline, IT’S PLAIN TO SEE: MCCAIN CHOOSES TO SURROUND HIMSELF WITH LIBERALS. In a transcript that is posted on the site, Rush explains to a caller why he may not vote for the Republican nominee this year:

CALLER: My question to you is because I am absolutely beside myself, Rush. Why in the world would you make a statement that you may not — for the first time not — vote in this election this year? Wouldn’t any one of the Republican candidates be better than Hillary or Obama?

RUSH: Um, that’s an interesting question that you asked. What I said was that I, for the first time on this program, I can see possibly not voting for the Republican nominee.

CALLER: But, Rush, there’s enough of us… We all have problems with the fact that none of them are true conservatives, but isn’t something better than nothing?

RUSH: Well, let me try and explain it to you this way. If one such as myself happens to believe that there’s not too much of a substantive difference between Mrs. Clinton and a couple of the Republican potential nominees — and if I believe that either the Republican or Democrat nominee is going to cause great damage and harm to the country — I would just as soon it happen on the watch of a Democrat.

CALLER: Well, that certainly helps. That makes me feel a little better.

RUSH: Look, that statement I made is based on substantive analysis. It was a knee-jerk, and I didn’t just throw it out there to be picked up. I knew it would be, but that’s not why I threw it out there, and I’ll tell you, Dee, it’s rooted in the fact that — I’m blue in the face here — I’m a conservative first and a, quote, unquote, Republican second — and party unity, at the expense of conservative principles and values to me is not advancing things.

More examples: newsmax.com, another conservative Web site, has an article today written by Michael Reagan under the headline, JOHN MCCAIN HATES ME. Reagan writes:

As I watched McCain and Gov. Romney go at it during the debate at the Reagan Library, I was struck by the huge gap that separates McCain — whose contempt for his fellow humans is patently obvious — and my dad, Ronald Reagan, who had nothing but the deepest affection and respect for the American people.

Also from Newsmax: “Focus on the Family founder James Dobson remains adamant that he will not support McCain’s bid for the White House. Dobson, one of the nation’s most influential evangelical Christians, declared more than a year ago that he wouldn’t support McCain under any circumstances, saying McCain didn’t support traditional marriage values.”

But the biggest shocker of all was Ann Coulter on Hannity and Colmes Thursday night, when she said, “She’s more conservative that he is” and “I will campaign for her if it’s McCain.”

The McCain Mutiny poses a gigantic threat to the Republican Party. If the conservatives continue to regard McCain as a greater enemy than the Democrats — if they decide to stay home on election day — Republicans will get wiped out all over the country, and don’t think for a minute that Texas is exempt. Rick Perry understands this. He didn’t endorse John McCain just because they are both flyboys. He endorsed him because the GOP is staring catastrophe in the face. Watergate extended Democratic domination of Congress for twenty years. The Republican sweep of 1994 exiled the Democrats from congressional power for twelve years — and it would have been longer had the Iraq war gone better. A Democratic sweep in 2008 will not soon be reversed.

How real is the threat of the McCain Mutiny? At the moment it is just the far right’s effort to bestir conservatives to vote for Romney on Super Tuesday, which is the last chance to block McCain’s path to the Republican nomination. Perhaps, once McCain is the party’s nominee, some of the critics will train their fire upon the Democrats’ instead of their own. But professional conservatives like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter have little incentive to make peace. Their livelihoods depend upon the conservatives maintaining control of the Republican party. The greatest danger to them is not Hillary Clinton — she’s a boon — but that McCain may change the party by bringing in independents and moderates.

The Democratic party went through this stage in Texas. From the fifties through the seventies, the Democrats were split between conservative and liberal wings. The fight was a bitter one, because for rival factions, control of the party means everything. If your faction controls the party, you may lose most of the time, but eventually the other party will screw up and it will be your turn to run the country, or the state. But if your faction doesn’t control the party, you never win.

The conservatives are engaging in a high-risk strategy. The talk-show crowd may think that they can control the whirlwind — that, having whipped conservatives into an anti-McCain frenzy, they can, after the nomination, talk them back into the fold. I wouldn’t bet on that. It is never easy to get the toothpaste back in the tube. The likeliest outcome of the anti-McCain feeding frenzy is a depressed conservative turnout nationwide, with Rs suffering losses from the courthouse to the White House. Texas is not exempt.

The Republican party is not going to recover until Republicans take a serious look at why they lost in 2006. Was it just a perfect storm of a controversial war, an unpopular president, Tom DeLay sleaze, and the congressional page scandal? Or was it something more profound? Certainly, events had a lot to do with the loss of both houses of Congress, but I think that the basic issue lies elsewhere. Republicans need to decide whether they lost because they were not conservative enough, as the right would have you believe, or whether they were too conservative. I think it is the latter — that the takeover of the party by evangelicals brought to power a group that had little history of participation in politics, regarded every issue as a moral issue on which they were the arbiters of morality, and ultimately abandoned the party’s longstanding commitment to individualism, libertarianism, and local control. This is going to take a long time to fix — unless, of course, the Democrats blow their opportunity. Which would not suprise me.