The near success in Ohio by Democrats was achieved after the party had enlisted an Iraq veteran, Paul L. Hackett, who nearly defeated Jean Schmidt.

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional campaign committee, Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, said he was talking to four or five other Iraq veterans to run in open seats or against weak Republican incumbents. ~The New York Times

Less than seven months ago, we were treated to the renewed blustering of war supporters as they prattled on about the Iraq elections, “indelible ink” and the colour purple. This month it is difficult to remember a time not very long ago when critics of the war were a very tiny, vocal but largely irrelevant force in this country. Now it appears that there is a good chance of the war in Iraq failing politically, both in Iraq and in America.

The special election in Ohio, where Ms. Schmidt narrowly won (52-48%) what has been a solidly Republican seat for decades, is almost as significant as the Democrats hope that it is. All politics may be local, but as of this month Iraq has become very much a part of Ohio’s local politics. Readers will remember from their poli-sci and government lessons that Republicans always vote in higher numbers in special elections and low turnout is always proportionally better for Republicans. A Republican faring worse in a special election than in a normal general election, especially in a loyal district in the heartland, is a portent of doom for the GOP. Combined with public disgust with the scandal-ridden Gov. Taft (1 in 5 voters approve!), who was convicted on several misdemeanor counts for failing to report lobbyist expenditures on his behalf, and the miserable local economy, the GOP is bound to suffer badly.

The Illinois GOP cannot exactly be sanguine about the prospects of the war coming back to haunt them, either, especially as the state party continues to self-destruct, Republican unity founders and the flagship of Republican opinion begins to respond to growing discontent with the war. The Sunday Tribune’s op-ed section this week was dominated by three critical or vehemently hostile articles against the administration and the war, counterbalanced weakly by Helle Dale’s mewling apology for the conflict.

In the past in major newspapers such as the Tribune, it has always been the antiwar article that has been the isolated, weak, apologetic argument. The Tribune op-ed section in particular has been frequently filled for the last year with obstinate pro-war columnists, and now we have ceased to see them. This may only be impressionistic, but it seems that the Tribune’s readers are increasingly tired of reading the boilerplate excuses for a war no one in this country, outside the political and chattering classes, ever really wanted.

As the Illinois GOP continues to wither from the effects of the extensive corruption of former Gov. Ryan, who will soon go on trial, its representative at the RNC, Bob Kjellander, has come in for unusual criticism for his general incompetence as an election coordinator (think Alan Keyes) and his less-than-ethical mixing of business and political connections by Dennis Byrne, a local columnist typically supportive of the GOP. Kjellander has even received a rebuke from the Tribune’s editors, who have called on Kjellander to resign his RNC position. This is not a party prepared to fight the ‘06 election, and Mr. Emmanuel’s plans to place the Iraq war at the center of many races will likely exploit publc weariness with the conflict to the further humiliation of the local Republicans.

Withdrawal, considered the policy of lunatics and fools not so very long ago, is now openly advocated by solidly “mainstream” columnists and pundits. Steve Chapman’s call for ending the war was less surprising, as he has long been an opponent and critic. But others who have been generally far less critical of the administration and the war in general are beginning to despair of any kind of remotely successful conclusion to the conflict. Donald Devine, editor of the American Conservative Union’s online magazine, Conservative Battleline, wrote this week: “The only solution is for the U.S. to exit before the whole thing comes apart.” Even though his criticism of the war has been very limited, Mr. Devine has been consistently skeptical of the prospects of U.S. nation-building in Iraq. If a prominent public voice at the ACU has begun advocating withdrawal “before the whole thing comes apart,” support for this war is going to collapse still further.

The GOP is in an awful fix. Having betrayed almost every principle they purportedly represent and having committed the country to a war that was not needed and which has been a tiresome and disgusting waste of American life, they also happen to be dogged by scandal and investigations on several fronts (e.g., Ryan, Taft, Rove, Franklin et al.), as well as suffering a growing feeling of malaise and aimlessness. Coming into the 2006 off-year elections, in which the incumbent party traditionally will lose seats, they have everything going against them. If they retain their congressional majority, it will be thanks to the magic of gerrymandering and the stupidity of Howard Dean. How they have reached this rather grim situation, led down the garden path by Mr. Bush, and how they might try to remedy it is something they should certainly ponder.