What on earth is happening to the Republicans? While it's unfair to judge a broad-based party by the actions of a clearly demented few, recent events on the campaign trail are drawing even staunch conservatives to wonder where things went so horribly wrong. Highly publicized reports have audience members yelling "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" in response to John McCain's and Sarah Palin's provocative stump speeches. Racist epithets have rained down on black stage workers. Observers on both sides note the atmosphere more often than not resembles a lynch mob than a political rally. Perhaps realizing the damage being wrought on his election chances and, worse yet, on his vaunted honor McCain broke from his running mate's race-baiting rhetoric, stating yesterday that supporters need not fear Barack Obama nor his potential presidency. His calls for a return to rationality were met with jeers. One woman refused the senator's request, saying she still didn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab." Are these really the kinds of people to whom McCain, hemorrhaging poll points like a hemophiliac, should be handing microphones? Tellingly, many of the right wing's most tenacious rowers are showing signs of jumping ship. Last week on Larry King Live, National Review columnist Kathleen Parker (who last month called for Palin to spare McCain by abdicating her nomination) and longtime Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt expressed their disdain for the direction of Steve Schmidt's campaign, indicating their votes might be up for grabs come Nov. 4. Talk about your October surprises: Who could have guessed that it would be the self-appointed maverick who has yet to get started, and not the slaphappy moron who is a public mockery, to slip a poison pill to the Grand Old Party?