Talk to a Republican political operative lately and, once you get by the false public bravado that all of them try lamely to project, you see nothing but desperation in their eyes.

The world is crashing down on the party of the elephant and they have only themselves to blame for the disaster that awaits them on November 7.

“In the House, Republicans are most likely to see a net loss of 20 to 35 seats, and with it their majority,” says respected political analyst Charlie Cook. “In the Senate, the GOP could lose at least four, but a five- or six-seat loss is more likely. A six-seat change tips the chamber into Democratic hands.”

I’ve known Charlie for more than 20 years and he doesn’t make reckless predictions. If anything, he plays it safe. Projecting a loss of 20-35 seats in the House means big, big trouble for Republicans.

Publicly, Republicans claim the election will swing their way on voter turnout and local issues. Privately, they admit they’re screwed.

“We’re fucked…that’s all there is to it,” a prominent GOP strategist told me over the weekend. “We followed George W. Bush into the black hole of Iraq and there’s no way out.”

Bush’s political hit man, Karl Rove, promised Republicans an October surprise to turn the tide but the surprises kept drowning the Republicans: mounting losses in Iraq; the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal; and increasingly dismal economic news.

In key Senate races, Republicans are dumping millions into last-minute attack ads to try and sway voters. Here in Virginia, our local NBC affiliate ran 71 ads from Republican incumbent George Allen, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee attacking Democratic challenger Jim Webb during Sunday’s telecast of the NASCAR Nextel Cup race.

But while the Republicans try to con voters one more time, America is headed for serious trouble in the real world.

Comptroller General David Walker warns the United States is headed for an economic disaster because of the budget-busting spending policies of Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress. Just before this election, he embarked on a “fiscal wake up tour” to drive the message home.

“You can’t solve a problem until the majority of the people believe you have a problem that needs to be solved,” Walker says.

And that is the central problem from too many years of control by a reckless and irresponsible Republican party.

Republicans refuse to believe there is a problem, especially one of their own making. They increased government spending while cutting taxes, driving deficits to record levels.

Bush continues to argue that the Iraq war is winnable, even though his own generals and a vast majority of the American public know otherwise.

The Republican leadership of Congress tried to ignore a serial sexual predator in their midst, hoping the problem would go away. It didn’t.

For the past dozen years, the mantra of Republican leadership in Congress was evasion of the facts and avoidance of reality.

Now 12 years of corruption, dalliance, arrogance and outright malfeasance have come down on the GOP like a plague of locusts, leaving behind a rotting, putrid sludge that used to be a great nation.

The first step to cleaning up the mess comes next week when we march into the voting booth and vote to throw out the garbage.

But that’s only the first step. If the polls and prognosticators prove right, we can’t waste time celebrating an elephant’s death. We have to make sure that the party of the jackass that takes its place doesn’t return to its old ways of doing business.

Change is only the beginning and change must be the mantra that guides us all in the coming years. If the Democrats fuck up this opportunity, it will be time to scrap our current system of government and find one that works.