Editor's Note: Ed Rollins, who served as political director for President Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.
Ed Rollins says George W. Bush's dream of guiding Republicans to dominance has been dashed.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- We're coming to the close of the longest and most costly presidential election in our history.
Whoever wins, this race will be historic. We will elect in a week either the first African-American president and the first Catholic vice president or the oldest man to be elected to a first term and the first woman vice president.
Another asterisk for the record books would be the election of the first president born in Hawaii or vice president raised in Alaska.
Fifty-six times Americans have gone to the polls to select our presidents. This is the first time two sitting U.S. senators are facing off against each other. It is the first time since 1928 a sitting president or vice president is not a candidate. But two presidents, the incumbent and his immediate predecessor, cast giant shadows over this election season.
The biggest shadow of course is that of President Bush. Our 43rd president's goal in life was to surpass his father, 41, whom he admired but felt was weak.
Guided by his political guru, Karl Rove, it was Bush II's ambition to make the Republican Party the majority party for decades to come. He and Karl wanted to create a political realignment that would marginalize Democrats for at least a generation and maybe more.
Not satisfied to change only American politics, Bush and his neo-con advisers, led by Dick Cheney, wanted to use American military might to spread democracy to places that had been led only by tribal councils and ruthless dictators.
If Bush had accomplished these goals, he truly would have been a historic president much like his newfound hero Harry Truman. But his failures were unimaginable. W will go down in history, all right.
He will leave office with the lowest approval ratings of any president in modern times and will be judged as a catastrophic failure who destroyed his party, left his successor with two unpopular, unfinished wars and left the country in the worst economic condition in nearly eight decades. That's not even counting the Bush administration's inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
By comparison, his father's failed presidency looks pretty good. Barack Obama has very effectively tied John McCain to Bush and tried to convince voters that electing McCain means four more years of Bush's failed policies.
The second president in this election season whose shadow looms large and goals remain unfulfilled is Bill Clinton. Clinton seemed to think if his wife were elected president, his presidency and his legacy would be renewed.
His meddling and missteps may have helped undo her effort to become the first woman president. Hillary Clinton's dream obviously disappeared with the nomination of Barack Obama.
Although a political loser this cycle, Hillary Clinton will remain on the political stage in a very large role as long as she chooses.
Unlikely as it seems today, she still may be America's first woman president. But for her immediate future, "If only we had done [fill in the blank]?" will be part of her daily thoughts and those of her supporters. As for Bill, the ex-president's club is pretty exclusive and he will remain a factor in world and domestic politics for as long as he chooses.
This brings us to the last two men standing after this marathon election cycle -- McCain and Obama.
McCain began his quest for the presidency over 10 years ago, never giving up on his pursuit of that office.
I will vote for McCain, but I do so knowing he has run one of the weakest presidential campaigns in modern times and is probably going to lose big.
I support him because I think he is a courageous man, a tested leader and a man who can direct this country through the tough times ahead. I also believe in what he stands for, even though he has not articulated it as well as I might have liked.
But unless some unforeseen event occurs, I believe McCain's quest comes to an end in a week.
What he does after this campaign is a serious question. Returning to the Senate where his party's numbers will be greatly diminished would be a giant letdown -- and he will likely be blamed, at least in part, for those diminished numbers.
I believe Obama is likely to be our next president but he will not have long to savor his victory. He faces the prospect of real nightmares for most or all of his term. Every skill we have seen brilliantly displayed in his near-perfect campaign will be needed during his term.
Having worked for four presidents, I know what tough decisions rest on a president's desk each day. No matter how smart his advisers are, the decision is his.
Whoever wins, the next president may enjoy only two days of his presidency: his inauguration day and the day years later when he dedicates his presidential library.
For Republicans, if the polls are any indication, Karl Rove and George Bush's plans for a major party realignment may come true. It just won't be the party they wanted.
I am afraid this election is about to be a debacle for Republicans and a long election night; and unless we get our act together it may be a very long time in the wilderness.
But rest assured. Next week, if McCain loses, small groups of folks will start plotting and planning for the candidate of their choice for 2012. To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger's slogan in the movie the Terminator: "We'll be back!"
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.
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