WHOOPS…Bush’s advisors will not be sleeping well tonight. Going this negative on national television is always dicey, but tonight, they pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and, finally, fell backwards into backlash. Zell’s speech crossed the line and Cheney’s sneer sealed the impression. Tonight’s theme was “Fuck you, John Kerry”, and it’s going to end up fucking them.

After Cheney, Zell was up in CNN’s booth, and Blitzer, Greenfield and Woodruff brought out the knives, dismembering his various inconsistencies (noting that Zell praised Kerry a few years ago, bringing up the fact that Cheney voted against funding for the same weapons systems he criticized Kerry for opposing and reminding Zell that the president has called Iraq an “occupation” four times) and making him look like a bitter, rigid old man. Greenfield ended the interview wondering about backlash from the speech while Blitzer asked Zell why he was so unreasonably angry. Apparently Chris Matthews eviscerated Zell just minutes later. The media’s getting sick of these guys, and swing voters who tuned in tonight — the voters who don’t mind either candidate and just haven’t decided who to vote for — are going to find themselves turned off by the Republican’s brutality.

Tomorrow night, I have no doubt Bush will attempt to be positive, hopeful and even uplifting. But tonight, on their last chance to take on Kerry, they roared too loud and I think it hurt everybody’s ears. Voters aren’t always informed, but they’re almost always decent and they well know that no party’s candidate is that singularly wrong, exclusively evil, and determined to bring America to its knees. The right insisted on a caricature of Kerry too satanic for any reasonable person to believe, and that dissonance will say all that needs to be said. The media responded with unexpected anger (though they originally planned to respond with almost all right-wing guests) and the moderates (like McCain) condemned the vituperation. The meme is out: tonight, the Republicans went too far.

Ezra Klein

Follow Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Ezra Klein is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vox.com.