FROM THE PARTY OF BUSH TO THE PARTY OF JEFFERSON DAVIS…. Looking at the forest instead of the trees, it’s rather remarkable to see just how far the Republican Party is willing to go in 2010. Leading GOP officials, with considerable power and influence, have earnestly pushed for a debate on the partial repeal of the 14th Amendment — and it doesn’t occur to the political establishment to point and laugh.

NBC News’ First Read noted yesterday morning, “Just askin, but do these Republicans want to be tied to wanting to change this historic, post-Civil War amendment, which made former slaves and their children full citizens in this country? At a time of 10% unemployment and two wars, do politicians really want to debate a Constitutional Amendment from the 19th century?”

As it turns out, yes.

Yesterday added to this truly bizarre push. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) doubled down, characterizing the 14th Amendment as an antiquated relic. Around the same time, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa joined the chorus of Republicans endorsing hearings on a possible repeal, issuing a statement suggesting “changes” to the Constitution may be “warranted.” Also yesterday, a Fox & Friends host blithely referred to the 14th Amendment as the “anchor baby amendment.”

As a procedural matter, this is going nowhere. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on the Constitution, has dismissed the notion of hearings out of hand. For that matter, even if there were hearings, the notion of getting two-thirds of both chambers to approve such a move is patently ridiculous. Republicans know this, but they’re using this to rile up right-wing activists in advance of the elections, exploiting fear, bigotry, and ignorance in the hopes they boost turnout by a percentage point or two.

But that doesn’t take away from the astounding fact that these developments are even taking place at all. E.J. Dionne Jr. can hardly believe it.

Rather than shout, I’ll just ask the question in a civil way: Dear Republicans, do you really want to endanger your party’s greatest political legacy by turning the 14th Amendment to our Constitution into an excuse for election-year ugliness?

Honestly, I thought that our politics could not get worse….

Our politics has gotten worse, and it keeps getting even worse as Republicans push the boundaries of what’s acceptable in the American mainstream.

Take a moment to consider what’s become fairly common in GOP circles of late. A sitting Republican congressman and governor have openly speculated about secession. A Senate candidate in Nevada has raised the specter of armed insurrection against the United States government. A Senate candidate in Kentucky has spoken out against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota believes states should be able to ignore federal laws they don’t like. None of these developments have drawn even mild rebukes from the party establishment.

Indeed, the conversations driving the GOP discourse focus around a series of stories — Cordoba House, Prop 8, New Black Panther Party, Shirley Sherrod — that have one thing in common: they’re intended to make white voters afraid of “the other,” whether that be on the basis of religion, race, or sexual orientation.

And if Republican candidates excel in the midterms, the party will believe the American electorate rewarded the GOP for its divisiveness, bigotry, and demagoguery, making it more likely these tactics will be the centerpiece of future campaigns.

The RNC has a “Political Achievements” page on its website, and oddly enough, it touts “Republicans Passed the 14th Amendment” as one of the party’s proudest accomplishments.

The party has come a long way in the last 142 years. That’s not a compliment.

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.