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The year of the nut

In 1992, I was privileged to participate in what became known as “The Year of the Woman.” By contrast, 2010 may well be dubbed “The Year of the Nut.”

Republicans have nominated more nuts this year than in any other I can recall. When have so many major national Republican figures — including some, like Karl Rove, who don’t even face voters — felt compelled to walk away from so many candidates? It’s no wonder, when you consider the menagerie Republicans are offering up.

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Rand Paul claims to be a “board-certified ophthalmologist,” but it turns out the only “board” certifying him is one he owns. To lend an air of objectivity, Paul installed his wife as vice president, though she apparently lacks any medical education. Paul earned a rebuke from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, among others, for planting himself firmly in the far right (circa 1950) by questioning the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a toga-clad Mel Brooks put it, playing an ancient Roman in “History of the World: Part I,” “N-V-T-S, nuts.”

Like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle wants to de-fund the Department of Education, ending student loans that enable hundreds of thousands to afford college and cutting billions in aid to elementary and secondary schools. Veterans who risked their lives for our country are not immune from Angle’s ax — her crusade to privatize the VA puts healthcare at risk for returning soldiers. Angle opposes enforcing restraining orders against spouse and child abusers from other states and wants to force rape victims to give birth, telling them to make “lemonade out of lemons.” So crazy it’s offensive.

Like Angle, the newest exhibit in the GOP freak show — Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell — wants her interpretation of biblical law to be the law of the land, despite the fact that she practices biblically proscribed witchcraft when she’s not violating federal law, failing to pay her taxes or leading the anti-masturbation movement (a form of adultery, she claims).

These candidates also articulate, in unambiguous terms, the positions they share with more mainstream Republicans who fear speaking clearly to voters abut their plans. They candidly admit the GOP wants to privatize Social Security, cutting benefits and risking seniors’ retirement in the stock market, while eliminating Medicare by turning it into a voucher program. If your doctor charges more than the voucher provides, you are out of healthcare.

And Republicans have demonstrated in vote after vote, pledge after pledge that they will fight to retain tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. They actually expect Americans to pay companies to export their own jobs. It’s a measure of how out of control Republicans are that they proudly unite around this idea instead of casting it off as nutty — and that CEOs like Carly Fiorina, who have exported those jobs, are embraced by the GOP as “mainstream.”

Does the lunacy matter? It might.

The Republican Party is about as unpopular today as either party has ever been. Even as Democrats suffer on the “generic ballot,” voters’ image of the GOP is far worse than their perceptions of Democrats. Republicans’ brand has less equity today than it did in 2006 when they suffered substantial losses and vastly less than Democrats had in 1994 when we were decimated.

Despite that, Republicans will surely win seats this year. However, they have put on a very ugly face for voters, with nutty candidates reinforcing their out-of-sync positions — a face that may cost them victories in 2010 and will likely prove an albatross for some years to come.Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.