And now, four years later, here we are with Trump. It's very frustrating to see one of the two major parties put up a circus clown as applicant for a job that demands gravitas and sophistication. Democracy suffers in a two-party system, and that suffering is compounded when one of the parties seems so dysfunctional that it can't even make a decent counterbalance to the other.
But to understand how we got here it's worth pointing out that Obama only beat McCain by 3.9% of the popular vote in 2008, and only beat Romney by 2% of the popular vote in 2012. Two percent! Let that sink in for a moment; I'll wait.
I live near San Francisco. Around here it's possible to spend an entire week roving around the city chatting people up and never meet a single Republican. (They're around, but they mostly keep their mouths shut and keep to themselves.)
People around here talk about a lot of good ideas, and know a lot about the good ideas and good policy that are embedded in the Democratic party, but they also freely mix that information with conveniently selected stories and references that demonize and parody the Republican party. As a result it's easy to get a very skewed impression of what the voting membership of the Republican party actually cares about, and/or listens to. Those people are not crazy. It's just that the party system that was supposed to serve them betrayed them worse than it betrayed the Democrats.
Around here the Democratic party also suffered an internal version of this when Bernie and Hillary supporters went diving at each others' throats for most of an entire year. We have the benefit of watching the dust settle and forming a more sensible - and factual - impression of the winner now. But we also need to keep in mind that the same thing is happening for Republicans. The party gave them a long parade of people, and they rejected each one, almost one at a time, until the one left was the one least interested in pandering to - or even being subject to the control of - or even listening to - the party officials. This was a pretty big "screw you" to their own party, intentional or not, but now that the process is done and the dust is settling, is it any wonder that they're starting to lose interest in their "screw you" candidate?
If Trump loses as big as we all think he will, perhaps this will be the decade that the Republican party finally (finally!) ditches the things that have stopped working for it: Courting huge, rich donors, goading religious conservatives into politics, and drumming up nostalgia for whitebread 50's post-war America. If they rebuild their platform into something that befits the 21st century it will be a really huge help for democracy in this country.
In that case, bless Trump for being the clown too big for the clown car, and crashing it into the telephone pole of progress.