Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee are right. That's how bad it is for Republicans.
Cheney is absolutely on target that Colin Powell may as well be a Democrat and that Rush Limbaugh more appropriately represents the contemporary Republican Party.
A man like Powell -- socially moderate, fiscally responsible and averse to ill-conceived military intervention -- has no logical place in this Republican Party.
A Republican acquaintance of mine asked the other day: What's the difference between Colin Powell and Barack Obama on policy, anyway?
The answer is that there isn't any.
I think the Republican acquaintance's point was that Republicans should say good riddance to Powell. Mine is that Obama has so seized the political middle from Republicans that a nominal Republican possessed of tolerance and moderation has no kinship with Republicans, but only with Democrats, anymore.
Today's Republicans are, as Cheney effectively concurs, a radio audience -- Limbaugh's. They talk to each other a couple of hours a day about how they hope America fails under Obama's leadership.
Jeb Bush? Despite his last name, he was sent out with Mitt Romney to man the point position at the Republicans' first stop on a "listening tour." There Jeb said the Republicans need to get past all this nostalgia for Ronald Reagan.
This has caused Jeb to be accused of utter blasphemy.
But Jeb was right in the way that Al From, former head of that centrist "new Democrat" group called the Democratic Leadership Council, was right in the early 1990s. From always liked to say that Democrats needed to get it through their heads that Franklin Roosevelt was great because he had bold programs for his time, and that their allegiance decades later should be to that legacy of bold ideas, but not to the specific ideas themselves.
Bill Clinton was listening. Bill Clinton got elected president.
The question for Republicans today is not what Reagan would do. Supply-side and laissez-faire economics won't work when supplies have dried up and a thoroughly unregulated financial market has brought the country to near-ruin. Cutting taxes across the board, meaning disproportionately to the rich, merely would exacerbate the obscene federal deficit and widen the cancerous gap between the rich and poor in our society.
FDR was a great man for the 1930s. Reagan was a great man for the 1980s. We're at the end of the first decade of a new century now, and, if anything, FDR's New Deal has more retro value than Reagan's "Morning in America." It's very nearly straight-up 12 in America, and that's either high noon or midnight.
Then there's Mike Huckabee, writing a little piece of snide commentary making fun of his fellow Republicans for sending out Jeb and Romney, the latter his chief rival, on this "listening tour."
Why, they made it all the way from inside the Beltway to a pizza place in the D.C. suburbs, Huckabee scoffed. He wondered: Did either of those guys ever go into a diner merely to get a burger and then engage the waitress in a discussion of her concerns? How about asking a baggage handler at the airport what was on his mind?
Right again. You can't script a political connection. You can't listen by appointment only.
What does all this mean? Quite possibly this: That trusted bromide about how the minority party always makes gains in mid-term elections may not be so trusted anymore.
Organized labor people were telling me the other day they had a choice to make. Either they could push a card-check compromise now and lean on the newly Democratic Arlen Specter, or they could simply cool it and go for the whole package again after they get 62 or 63 Democratic senators in 2011.
John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.