Handy-dandy Merriam-Webster.com informed me that the word "schadenfreude" was in the top 1 percent of its online lookups Friday afternoon. Could Minnesota DFLers have been searching for a word that fit their reaction to news that the state Republican Party is nearly $2 million in debt?

If they were, I'd counsel them to stifle their glee over the GOP's troubles. What's happened to Minnesota Republicans has happened with some variations to DFLers in the past. Both parties are prone to overrating partisan fervor and undervaluing executive skill when choosing leaders.

What's more, the state GOP's financial weakness now is not a good predictor of its strength come November. The party has ample time to refill its coffers.

Still, the size of the state GOP's debt is of more than intraparty significance. It's a blow to the reputation of an enterprise that exists to give average Minnesotans a meaningful opportunity to shape state governance.

Both major parties have seen their influence weaken over the years. Candidates have increasingly become free agents. The courts have allowed interest groups to bypass the parties and play politics on their own.

Prolonged fiscal distress in the Republican house would reinforce the perception that parties aren't worthy vessels for people's time and money. Big money will keep going elsewhere; citizens of modest means will gravitate to alternative forums. More Tea Parties and Occupy movements are the likely result.

Today the state Republican Central Committee will meet in St. Cloud to select a successor to chairman Tony Sutton, who resigned Dec. 2 as the party's debt crisis deepened. One need not be a Republican to hope that in this election, executive ability will carry the day.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer.