Sunday's GOP Presidential candidate debate was more of a free-for-all than a discussion of the issues as participants attacked each other, Hillary Clinton, and anything Democratic.
Then they argued among themselves over who is, or is not, a real conservative.
With the rabid right wing of the Republican Party threatening to bolt and back an as-yet unnamed third party candidate, the GOP Presidential wannabes behaved like a group of schoolyard bullies, each trying to claim they were tougher than the others.
It came off as childish, immature, and foolish.
Republican rivals Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and John McCain sought on Friday to become the favorite of anxious social conservatives, each suggesting he offered the best chance of thwarting abortion rights supporter Rudy Giuliani.
"This is not the time to turn our back on the progress we've made on the issues that matter most," McCain, the Arizona senator, told a receptive gathering of "values voters." "I have a record that can be trusted."
In American politics, we're used to hearing Republicans use the language of faith. And we're used to hearing Democrats talk tough on protecting the environment.
But this year, we're starting to notice candidates from both sides mixing the two, perhaps hoping that breaking that language barrier can win them cross-over support.
Religious and cultural conservatives, a political force skeptical of the leading Republican presidential candidates, are caught in a tug of war between pragmatism and ideology.
"My head and my heart are fighting with each other," said Phil Burress, an Ohioan who has lobbied hard for federal and state bans on gay marriage.
The vexing choices facing these voters:
_Rudy Giuliani, a thrice-married New Yorker who differs with them on abortion, gays and guns but who polls show offers a strong chance to beat a Democrat next fall.
If Americans really cared about the annual deficit or the $9 trillion national debt, they would choose Hillary Rodham Clinton or Ron Paul to be the next president. They're among few candidates for the White House whose campaign spending is well within their means.
Republican strategists hope a volatile electorate will save the party from congressional losses in 2008 that appear possible due to a string of setbacks.
Democrats hold clear edges in raising money, limiting retirements and deflecting public anger.
In the latest sign, the party's House campaign committee said Wednesday it has about $25 million to spend on targeted races next year; its Republican counterpart is in debt.
Facing such news, the GOP's top House strategist summoned reporters to his campaign headquarters to put the best possible light on matters.
Lynne Cheney said Tuesday that her husband, Vice President Dick Cheney, is a distant cousin of his political polar opposite: Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
Cheney said she made the surprising discovery that her 66-year-old Republican husband and Obama, 46, are eighth cousins while she was doing family research for a book about her experiences growing up in Wyoming.
The vice president's wife said she traced a common ancestor of the two men to a 17th century immigrant from France.
The sociologist Peter Berger once observed that, if India is the world's most religious country and Sweden the least, the United States is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes.
He made this comment at a time when there was something of a consensus among our elites that religion was a basically private matter -- one which ought to play little or no role in public policy debates.
The audience stood in unison as former Denver Mayor Federico Pena made his triumphant entrance at the local public library.
Both people, that is.
Pena shook a couple of hands, made some small talk and then got down to business telling the "crowd" why Sen. Barack Obama is his choice for president.
"I asked myself, who has the best skill set, the natural ability to bring people together," Pena said. "You don't teach somebody to be a unifier. "
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton has pulled ahead of rival Barack Obama at the bank as well as in the polls and both continue to crush Republicans in the money race.
Clinton holds nearly $35 million three months before the voting starts, to Obama's $32 million.
The Republican money leader, Rudy Giuliani, reported $11.6 million in the bank for the primaries.
Clinton, who had trailed Obama in fundraising and in money in the bank at the end of June, edged past him with an aggressive third quarter of fundraising.