The Senate Republican caucus may act to distance itself from John McCain when he returns to Washington next week to vote on a series of bills intended to highlight his record as the real agent of change in this election. On one of these stands, however, the GOP caucus will make itself look ridiculous. McCain wants to vote with Jim DeMint to impose a one-year moratorium on earmarks — and Roll Call reports that the Republicans don’t want any part of that liberal nonsense:

The first test of whether the GOP Conference — and particularly its leadership — are in lock step with McCain could come as early as next week, when the chamber is expected to consider a one-year moratorium on earmarks during the budget debate. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and endorsed by McCain, has garnered little support from rank-and-file Republicans, particularly the party’s “Old Bulls,” who have mounted a defense of earmarks in recent weeks.

DeMint said on Tuesday that he hoped to set a vote for the amendment during a time when McCain can be there. “Obviously, this is his baby and I consider him the champion of this,” DeMint said. …

According to one senior GOP aide, despite the desire to unite around McCain, his positions on several big-ticket issues likely will mean the Conference will not find common ground with their nominee.

“We’re not going to back him on earmarks, or on climate change, or on immigration,” the aide said. … Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who touted McCain’s positions on fiscal responsibility, climate change and immigration as a key to his ability to reach independent voters, acknowledged that those votes will put him in conflict with the GOP [emphasis mine — Ed]. “There will be some [conflict],” Alexander said Tuesday, noting that while “I’ve supported others in this primary contest, I’m very comfortable with Sen. McCain” as the nominee.

We have reached a sad state of affairs when the Republican caucus leadership can make a statement like this. A vote for fiscal responsibility will put McCain in conflict with the GOP? The party won’t back McCain on earmarks, even though his improbable come-from-behind victory for the party’s nomination shows exactly how seriously the Republican voters take fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability?

This shows the deafness that comes from living within the Beltway for too long. If the Republicans didn’t lose in 2006 because of Iraq, nor because of profligate spending, nor because of corruption generated from the nexus of political contributions and earmarking, exactly why do these geniuses think they’re in the minority? Misaligned stars in the firmament? Not only did the voters send a message on corruption, they had it delivered by FedEx with two signatures and a return receipt. Yet the survivors of 2006 somehow think that fiscal responsibility doesn’t matter.

What’s most frustrating is that Democrats have dropped the ball on this issue. They broke their vaunted ethics rules on earmarking literally at the first opportunity to do so in 2007, dropping over 11,000 earmarks into 2008’s appropriations, mostly via air-dropped conference report pork. They want to spend perhaps as much as $300 billion a year more in 2009 and beyond. Only an opposition party firmly and overtly committed to fiscal responsibility can prevail against the party who offers costly and damaging wealth-redistribution programs, and the corrupting and encroaching increase in federal control over American lives.

Instead of finding ways to pick fights with John McCain, perhaps the Senate and House GOP caucuses ought to try listening — not just to McCain, but also to the message voters have been trying to deliver for two years.