Ezra gives a quick lesson in hardball:

There's a question as to whether politicians should play hardball and another question as to whether any particular instance of hardball is smart. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, for instance, were effective in part because they were an independent organization, and thus the backlash against them didn't mean a backlash against George W. Bush. Similarly, though Karl Rove suspects that Al Gore's campaign was behind the revelation of Bush's 1976 DUI, the campaign never admitted that and refused to comment on it. By contrast, John McCain just looked foolish when he started bringing up William Ayers.

Bernstein thinks that to "the extent that the parties have followed different strategies, it's not at all clear that Republicans have benefited." His more general principle:

Conservative activists believe ... Republican pols are a bunch of wimpy, half-hearted idealists who allow ruthless liberal Democrats, who play this game for keeps, to trample all over them. Indeed, this follows the Iron Law of Politics that everyone believes that the other side is better at the mechanics of politics: the other side is always more ruthless in their exploitation of the rules and willingness to ignore ethical niceties, more tactically adept, better at extracting money from their base, and (depending on who is complaining) either better at ignoring the policy demands of their crazy ideological base in order to win the center or better at addressing the policy demands of the base, while our side uses and then ignores the policy demands of the base. 

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