THE CONSEQUENCES OF SLEAZE…. We talked earlier about the McCain campaign’s sleaze factor. But let’s take this one step further and consider what happens if these tactics work.

As an electoral matter, if voters fall for McCain’s nauseating nonsense and culture war tawdriness, he obviously gets to be president. But then what happens? Kevin had an item last night that mirrored my thinking.

John McCain has obviously decided that he can’t win a straight-up fight, so he’s decided instead to wage a battle of character assassination, relentless lies, and culture war armageddon. So what happens on November 5th?

If McCain wins, he’ll face a Democratic Congress that’s beyond furious. Losing is one thing, but after eight years of George Bush and Karl Rove, losing a vicious campaign like this one will cause Dems to go berserk. They won’t even return McCain’s phone calls, let alone work with him on legislation. It’ll be four years of all-out war. […]

McCain, in his overwhelming desire for office, is unloosing forces that are likely to make the country only barely governable no matter who wins. This would be very bad juju at any time, but George Bush has so seriously weakened the country over the course of his administration that we don’t have a lot of room for error left if we want to avoid losing the war on terror for good and turning America into a banana republic while we’re at it. We need to start turning the ship around now.

McCain doesn’t seem to care much about this anymore, but the rest of us ought to.

Watching McCain’s sex-ed ad, I was thinking the same thing. Indeed, it’s something of a trend when it comes to short-term thinking — every decision the McCain campaign makes is intended for immediate gratification, without regard for consequences. We certainly saw this with the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket. It’s about winning news cycles, nothing more.

But it’s not difficult to imagine the political landscape in early 2009, with McCain having lied and smeared his way into office. He wouldn’t have a mandate, because he hasn’t run on issues. He wouldn’t have credibility or goodwill, because his entire race has been predicated on deceit and character assassination. The very idea of a President McCain reaching out to Democratic leaders to pursue the national interests is laughable.

McCain is running the kind of campaign now that will lead to gridlock and rancor later. But as long as the overnight polls look encouraging to McCain’s team, nothing else seems to matter, least of all honor and decency.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.