It now appears that the economic conditions facing the incumbent Democrats next year will be at least as negative as those that led Republicans to defeat in 2008.
So Republicans now have a remarkable opportunity, but they need to be careful. Public alarm over deficits and debt may be at an all-time high, but in their zeal to curb spending, Republicans must not seem to care more about shrinking the budget than expanding the economy.
The two goals are not incompatible, but Republicans must make the connection between them, or risk looking like a party of accountants. And this may be harder than it appears, especially with the intense pressure Tea Party activists will surely exert for far deeper spending cuts than the GOP, with control of only one House of Congress, is likely to achieve anytime soon.
On foreign policy, some congressional Republicans and some GOP presidential candidates seem ready to pull the plug on the limited Libya operation, and to head for the exits in Afghanistan as well. Neither of these conflicts is popular so it may look like good politics to oppose them.
But does the party of Ronald Reagan want to become the party that helped a wounded brute like Muammar Qaddafi survive in power? Or let Afghanistan regress into the terrorist haven that gave us 9/11?
President Obama may be inclined to relinquish the traditional U.S. role in the world and as he might put it, to lead from behind. But do Republicans really want to follow him?