One other quick note on the conflict between the Republican establishment and the grassroots, and the idea that the problem is the message, not the messenger.
I was recently at an event where a distinguished political scientist argued that "spending" per se was not causing a problem for Republicans in elections. That may be. But it seems to me that the problem with the Republicans when they ran Congress was not just excessive spending, but rather the combination of spending and misplaced priorities that gave rise to a perception of corruption and incompetence in the administration of the government.
I became aware of this when a friend of mine here in DC--a largely nonpolitical fellow who leans conservative Republican when he votes--was seeking top secret clearance for his job and was told that the government was out of money to process new applications. To which he commented, "How can it be that the government can find enough money to build a 'bridge to nowhere' but not to process applications for top secret clearance?" Good question.
And for what its worth, a quick search in the Westlaw "Allnews" database reveals that the phrase "bridge to nowhere" appears 3993 times. Perhaps not all of those are for the infamous Alaska bridge, but that seems like a lot to me. Moreover, a quick glance notes that a surprising number of the references are in letters to the editor and similar citizen comments. I suspect that the "bridge to nowhere" became a shorthand for what was wrong with Republican party rule in Washington in recent years, not just as an example of reckless spending, but of self-interest and incompetence.