President George W. Bush was described by political commentators in Washington DC as in ënear meltdowní today after his alliance with the religious right failed to stop Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives ñ and probably the Senate too ñ in the mid-term US congressional elections.
By this evening Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, blamed for obdurate denial and political miscalculation over the Iraq war and its aftermath, had resigned. And Rick Santorum, standard-bearer of the Christian right, conceded defeat in Pennsylvania.
In a stumbling performance at his main press briefing, Mr Bush talked of his administration ìalways changing tacticsî and admitted that he had not seen the latest set-back coming.
He claimed that his recent statement that Mr Rumsfeld would stay until 2009 was a delaying tactic, and said that he had always planned to replace him with Robert Gates, a former CIA director. Insiders doubt this.
One of the key issues in the elections was the failure of the religious right, whose close association with the White House was further undermined last week by the gay sex scandal surrounding National Association of Evangelicals chief, the Rev Ted Haggard.
However the notion that the elections constitute a shift to the left seems misplaced. Polls indicate that corruption and fears about the handling of Iraq and terrorism, leading to mistrust of Republicans, were chief in votersí minds.
And the agenda of the nascent religious progressive movement also seems to have made relatively little difference, though its agendas are more diverse and less organised than their Christian opponents.
Bans on gay marriage in 7 districts, making 27 in all, went through among local ballot initiatives, pleasing conservatives. And environmental concerns wee well down the list of votersí priorities.
Meanwhile, Senate power hangs on a tight race in one state, with only a few thousand votes involved in determining the outcome at the time of reporting.
Mainline church leaders are now likely to renew their call for a radical change of direction on the Iraq war, and bipartisan policies on social and ecological issues.