Weeks from now we may realize that it was between noon and midnight on Wednesday, March 6 -- when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., began to wind down his impromptu digression -- that the Republicans' ship finally righted itself in the water and turned around.
By then, Paul had been talking for more than 12 hours, his feat had "gone viral," and the Republican class of 2010, whose formal debut had long been awaited, arrived upon stage at long last. By that time, too, 12 Republican senators had left the Jefferson Hotel where they had been treated to dinner by President Obama, a gesture that was a tacit admission that his much touted Plan A -- to force the GOP into corners, win back the House and then smash it to pieces -- had failed.
At first, Obama's plan seemed to be working. Then his overkill on the dangers of the sequester backed him into corners, sent his poll numbers down into the 40s and forced him to pretend that he wanted a bargain. All at once, two critical things became evident: first, that he wasn't a god, just the same politician who blew a still bigger lead four years earlier. And second, that at long last, after much deprivation, the long talent drought in Republican circles seemed to be reaching its end.
As demonstrated by the Mitt Romney campaign just ended, the effect of aptitude on one's political fortunes can never be stressed quite enough. Romney had everything except a fingertip feel for his second profession, and this shortcoming made all the good things he had tactically useless.
In contrast, the Paul filibuster beautifully showcased the class of 2010's ample political gifts. As conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin says, Paul was savvy enough to seize on a snow day, when nothing was happening, and keen enough to narrow his issue to unaccountability on the president's power to strike American noncombatants on American soil. This allowed him to elide his more controversial theories, and brought together a coalition that included the conservative Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and several liberals as well. He united his side and divided the Democrats, setting some of them against their commander in chief.
"We happy few," read Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, from the speech before the Battle of Agincourt, as freshmen Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., dedicated their maiden remarks to the filibuster. Rubio read from "The Godfather" and then from the rapper Jay-Z.
"Paul chipped away at the Democratic Party's monopoly on romance," said Mediaite editor Noah Rothman. "His actions broke through traditional firewalls that keep politics out of the homes of the nation's marginally interested voters. ... For a moment, the pervasive cynicism that has hardened voting patterns over the last two decades melted away."
So has the funk among Republicans, who watched most presidential nominees since Ronald Reagan struggle with their dislike of politics, their inability to make the transition to the national scene from the ways of the Senate, and their general disconnect with cultural idioms not of their class, their generation or their general station in life.
Having been whipped twice by Obama, who ran on the romance of biography plus cultural relevance, the Republicans felt like whipped dogs, having been schooled since Nov. 6 by pundits and panels in their irrelevance, their impermanence and their hopeless debility. Now they are facing a false god whose clay feet are showing, and a bench that has both a pulse and a future.
No small turn to take place in less than 12 hours. Not bad for a snow day in March.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."