On a more strategic level, the institutional GOP was once again tempted by the shiny apple of the short-term news cycle. They were too fascinated with town halls and Obama's dipping poll numbers to keep focused on the long-term. In short, winning the news cycle intoxicated them. But now that the fumes of summer drunkenness have worn off, that position doesn't seem as smart as it once did. And Obama's long-term focus seems, once again, much more savvy.This crystallises something that's been banging around in my head for a while. I can't remember whether I actually said anything about it at the time, but the McCain Campaign was absolutely obsessed with short term tactical victories, an obsession which reached its zenith with the infamous Palin selection. The end result was a lot of publicity coups that had the talking heads saying how awesome he was (though since revealing McCain literally didn't know how many houses he owned led to at least one talking head saying how awesome he was, McCain probably didn't need to try all that hard), but the overall effect made McCain seem opportunistic and, worse, directionless. Even if the left complains (correctly) that McCain's endless reversals and flip-flops and out and out bouts of dementia were glossed over by the media, the impression of a man without a long term plan still filtered through.
The GOP, for whatever reason, though, has embraced this tactic entirely and is pushing it further than McCain ever could (well, he was only one man, so there was a limit to how much cynical news-cycle grabbing he could manage in any given week). Publius is entirely right that the town-hall targeting was part of that, as was stirring up the flat-out lunatic fringe of their own base more generally. As a result of ignoring strategy in favour of devotion to tactics, though, the Republicans have failed to meaningfully increase their polling numbers, have no credible alternative to Democratic legislation, and are facing the possibility of deliberate attempts by their own base to mount primary challengers who are even more unhinged than who they've got right now.
On that last point, I wonder if this wasn't entirely unavoidable. If you spend all your time telling people that the politicians on the other side of the aisle are villainous traitors, dedicated to the destruction of the entire country, how do you explain why you still attend meetings with them, or sip from the same water coolers, or exchange pleasantries in the corridors of power? It may be that the image of congressional Democrats that the Republicans have painted is now so hideous that those people nutty enough to swallow it are disgusted at the Republicans themselves for even allowing themselves to be in the same building.
Something to keep an eye on, anyhow.