The Republican presidential candidates have a big problem, which is why they spent the last debate criticizing George Bush.

Consider what these presidential candidates said about the incompetence, mismanagement and negligence of George Bush’s failures for the first four years of the Iraq war.

The core problem for Republican presidential candidates is this: They are forced to continue to support the escalation of the war, while they are forced to appeal to a hard-core, right-wing base that is far out of touch with American opinion.

What do they do? They start talking about the option of dropping nuclear bombs on Iran.

Everybody who believes this is what Americans want, a new war in the Middle East and our country dropping nuclear bombs, raise your hands.

Make no mistake: Iran is a problem and major multinational action to prevent Iran from being a nuclear power and from giving military aid to terrorist or hostile groups is needed.

Dropping nuclear bombs? This is certifiable, both as a lunatic policy idea and an example of why the United States has become so alienated in world opinion.

Throughout the free world, among America’s best friends, George Bush and his policies are widely despised at great damage to our credibility, our security and our worldwide role of moral leadership.

This kind of far-out, nut-case perversion of conservatism has nothing to do with Ronald Reagan and nothing to do with traditionally accepted policies that both Republican and Democratic presidents have historically agreed on.

What happens when the pundit-appointed savior of the Republicans, Fred Thompson, is asked to explain his desire for regime change in Iran and exactly how he expects to achieve it? Does he want another Middle East war, and which branch of the military service does he plan on using?  If not, besides dinner-party talk for neoconservatives and their discredited ideas, what does he mean?

Does Fred Thompson really believe it is honorable, patriotic and moral to be lying under oath, or risking the lives of our covert agents fighting against terrorists, by disclosing their identities?

This latest business of Republicans seeking to follow George Bush as commander in chief — hinting, implying or threatening to drop nuclear bombs on Iran — is another example of a party totally divorced from national security reality and American public opinion.

Dropping nuclear bombs? If Republicans believe that is what Americans want in the post-Bush era, and if they believe that is the way for America to regain our leadership of the free world, that is the stuff that Democratic landslides are made of.