Fair enough, I guess. But still, the primaries are a long way away. You’d think it might be the role of a magazine like National Review to try and promote the fortunes of a proper plain-vanilla conservative Republican. A Jim Gilmore or a Mike Huckabee or whomever. It’s not exactly a rare breed in the country, it’s just that nobody who fits the bill (except for Jeb Bush) has the requisite level of ex ante fame to get buzz. But why be a journalist if not to try and generate buzz about people you think are being unjustly ignored?

Do conservatives understand that given the gross unpopularity of Bush’s military adventures at this point, nominating someone whose main profile as a conservative is grounded in his strong rhetorical support of Bush’s military adventures isn’t going to work out well?  ~Matt Yglesias

Unfortunately, many really don’t understand that, or, what may be more striking, they simply don’t care.  Once you have tied yourself to the Iraq war as closely as many conservative pundits have done, especially those at National Review, and argued year after year that the Iraq war is essential to national security, McCain’s identification with the actually makes him appear to them to be a “stronger” candidate in some ideological sense, even if it almost certainly makes him unelectable.  Many a Republican primary voter regards McCain’s position on the war to be one of his best, while they find his lack of enthusiasm on granting the President discretion to define torture to be proof of his treachery.  In such an environment, rational political calculations tend not to prevail.  As far as the pro-war pundits are concerned, McCain passes the Lieberman test (indefatigable support for the invasion) and therefore all else can be forgiven.  This is because passing the Lieberman test means that nothing else really matters.

The aversion to talking up the lesser candidates is a little harder to explain.  It certainly seems politically suicidal to entrust your party’s political success to one of the three big clunkers.  Part of it is sheer establishmentarian bias: the celebrity candidates are part of the party elite, so members of the party and movement elite want to boost the celebrity candidates who belong to that group.  Part of the reason is undoubtedly the Iraq war.  McCain and Giuliani in different ways serve for these people as symbols of Republican “toughness,” and therefore qualify as “leadership material” regardless of whether they are actually good leaders rather than egomaniacal gloryhounds.  (They throw in Romney as the acceptable alternative for people who want to crack down on the southern border and make threatening noises about Iran, but the interest in him has been waning–he is acceptable because Romney will probably do very little about the border but will endorse crazy foreign policy adventures.)  The other candidates have either shown what these folks would call “irresolution” on Iraq (Brownback) or have not distinguished themselves with reckless, sabre-rattling rhetoric in the past (as Romney did when he was grandstanding about Khatami’s visit and again at Herzliya). 

Plus, Brownback wants America to go fight in…Darfur.  This does not get the pro-war pundit’s blood racing.  Huckabee wants to sponsor education in the arts and reduce obesity!  Again, not much enthusiasm for this among the big pundits.  Hunter is automatically out of the establishment sweepstakes because he is an anti-immigration politician who actually means what he says, and he opposes “free trade” deals that are a central part of GOP orthodoxy.  Tancredo is viewed by most of the established pundits as slightly mad and certainly unelectable.  The day establishment pundits get behind Ron Paul will be at the end of the world.  Gilmore?  Gilmore, from what I have read about him, is supposedly generally non-interventionist and only supports wars fought in self-defense, which means that he is automatically unacceptable.  That leaves Tommy Thompson.  These pundits may like Thompson all right, but when they can get behind real warmongers why bother with a mild-mannered Midwestern welfare reformer?  The rush to anoint the top three of the presidential field and studiously ignore the others has everything to do with the Iraq war, and it shows just how profoundly the war has confused and warped the priorities of the party.