The question on millions of voter's minds is, "Can we ever trust again?"
This isn't just granola-munching Flower Child Liberals talking, either. Conservative voices this year have spent more time criticizing their own group than they have been defending that group from outsiders. A collective groan can be heard going up from the Grand Old Party this year, because there's an absolute lack of viable candidates. The Democrats might be tempted to say "Well, that didn't stop you in 2000!", but this is different. Bush knew the Republican spirit and knew how to play to it.
But the legacy eight years later: what is considered by many to be the most corrupt government that the United States has ever had, and what many are calling the least popular President ever. His popularity rating hasn't risen above the 30% mark for most of his second term. We have a legacy of a messy, war-torn foreign policy, a network of cronies running everything, and the fact that torture, once a taboo topic, is now a check box on the form of issues to support or not support, right next to school vouchers and gay marriage.
Do you support torture? It boggles the mind to think how that could be put as a reasonable question. And yet four of our candidates answered 'yes'! They are Giuliani, Hunter, Romney, and Tancredo. Republicans all, and doubtless feeling that they have to answer in the affirmative in order to win voters. We have to be firm to fight terrorism, after all. We must torture to protect our freedom, which is what the terrorists hate us for.
What can only be described as the political takeover of 2000 did little to preserve the good name of the right wing. Using a technicality unknown to most voters in an education-poor country, they managed to use the Electoral College to basically take over the government. The fact that they pushed through and got their way anyway did not serve to win the hearts of the American voters, whether right or left. As the Presidential limo was blocked from driving up to the white house and was pelted with eggs by an angry mob, many Conservatives expressed with embarrassment that it would have been better to lose than to win this way.
The aftermath of the election is that many voters are discouraged and disillusioned, believing that their vote does not count and there's no reason to go on trying. The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing seven years of war has left many more with paranoid conspiracy theories, furiously chasing their tails as they point to the obvious corruption that anyone can see, but no one can explain coherently. In the Nixon administration, we had his impeachment. As shocked as a nation was at this event, it could rest assured that justice had been served. The people thirty years later don't have that comfort.
Then there is the fact of the attacks themselves. Only the very paranoid would say that "Bush caused the attacks", but there is still the reasonable conclusion that had a different President been sitting in the Oval Office at the time they occurred, then events would have played out differently. What matters to voters now is not so much what happened then, as where we are now: in debt, two wars that show no signs of ever ending, a PATRIOT act that reads like a declaration of martial law forever, a domestic policy that's nothing short of disastrous, and a Federal government which is amongst the most powerful anyone can recall seeing.
As rioters in New Orleans storm city hall demanding they be allowed to stay in their shelters because they have no-where to go, as family members of soldiers killed in Iraq weep over their graves, as real estate markets bottom out and the dollar, for the first time in recent memory, is no longer the most valuable currency in the world, as travelers come back from the airport with horror stories of the TSA gestapo, and as criminal charges mount against an administration that has shown no sign of remorse, Conservatives are looking on and wondering, "Was it supposed to end like this?" This doesn't seem to be what anybody had in mind when they first said, "I'm a Conservative."
The candidates for the Democratic side are strong, and the ones on the Conservative side ignore the crisis of government to squabble about whether we can use medical marijuana, allow gays to marry, or trust a woman with her own uterus. And though the Democrats do not claim to have all of the answers, they will have to do pretty terrible just to pull up even with the Republicans.