WASHINGTON (AP) - So much for a lasting Republican majority.
The Republican Party is essentially in tatters, and not that long after President Bush's 2000 election spurred talk of enduring GOP dominance.
John McCain's shellacking, along with recent congressional losses, leaves the party searching for a new leader and identity.
"It's time for the losing to stop. And my commitment to you is that it will," House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio told his rank and file after the party lost at least 19 congressional seats Tuesday-on his watch.
Saying the party's image has been tainted by "scandals and broken promises," Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina declared: "We have got to clean up, reform and rebuild the Republican Party before we can ask Americans to trust us again." He called for party leaders to "embrace a bold new direction" or hit the road.
Indeed, a leadership fight brewed in the House.
Boehner announced he will seek two more years as Republican leader. But Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, the No. 3 Republican, was "reluctantly" stepping down from his post. And a GOP official said Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor intends to run for the second-ranking spot now held by Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Whether Blunt intends to seek a new term was not immediately known.
Plenty of Republicans from the conservative to the liberal wings of the party agree the GOP is in shambles as the Bush presidency comes to a close, leaving the party without a titular leader when the president's term ends in January.
Nearly two dozen prominent conservatives planned to meet in Virginia on Thursday to try to chart a path going forward.
To be sure, plenty of prospective White House hopefuls seem to be lining up for 2012.
McCain running mate Sarah Palin has signaled that she will remain on the national political scene. She says: "I'm not doing this for naught." Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost the nomination this year, has restarted his political action committee. And, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is heading to the leadoff caucus state of Iowa on Nov. 22 to deliver the keynote address to a conservative group. Any number of other Republicans may test the waters as well.
Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan said it would be wrong to view the election results as "the death rattle of American conservatism," pointing to a roster of GOP rising stars that includes Palin, Jindal, Cantor and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
Republicans, Duncan said, "are going to take a deep breath and listen to the American people." The party is creating a new online forum, called Republican for a Reason, that will allow people to explain "how we let them down" and "what we can do to restore confidence in our party," he said.
Tuesday's electoral losses for the GOP culminate a campaign that took place in an extraordinarily challenging political environment for the party in power amid two lingering wars and a spreading economic crisis. Bush's job approval ratings are at record lows and much of the country is demanding change.
Republicans were severely punished-for the second straight election.
McCain's loss to Democrat Barack Obama in an Electoral College landslide dramatically reorders the divided political map that's been the norm during the last two elections. Obama won in traditionally Republican states like Indiana and gained ground in just about every demographic group, including the fast-growing Hispanic bloc that Republicans have courted.
In Congress, House Republicans lost at least 19 seats, just two years after losing 30 seats and House control. Democrats now have locked up every seat in the Northeast.
Senate Republicans, for their part, will lose at least five seats, although the GOP blocked a complete Senate rout and thwarted Democratic hopes for a 60-vote majority needed to overcome Republican filibusters.
It's all quite a reversal from just eight years ago, when it was the Democrats in disarray.
In 2001, Bush set up shop in the White House with Republicans firmly in control of both the House and Senate.
His chief strategist, Karl Rove, envisioned building a long-term Republican majority by broadening the party's base in part by building support among women, labor groups and Hispanics.
Two years later, Rove said: "Political parties kill themselves, or are killed, not by the other political party but by their failure to adapt to new circumstances."
That turned out to be true-for the GOP.
"The party just simply lost its way," said Republican Dick Armey, the former House majority leader from Texas. "It was no longer about small government and individual liberties ... and the party became enormously unattractive to the American people."
Many point to the Iraq war-and anger over how it was handled-as just the start of the troubles.
"Try as it might, the party has been unable to get it off its back," said Frank Fahrenkopf, a former Republican National Committee chairman. He also pointed to Hurricane Katrina and a spate of scandals, including the leak of a CIA operative's identity, as kindling that fueled distrust of government and disgust with the GOP.
By 2006, the country issued a double repudiation of Bush and the party, giving Democrats control of both the House and the Senate.