There is something more than a little rich about the people whose magazine endorsed Mitt Romney and treated Giuliani very amicably acting like clear-eyed defenders of conservative philosophical coherence when it comes to criticising pro-Obama conservatives, such as Doug Kmiec. I have also criticised Prof. Kmiec for his pro-Obama arguments, but I cannot fault him for his disgust with the Bush administration and his desire to support someone who does not promise to replicate virtually every flaw and error of the administration. Though I did not share this judgement of Romney, there were some, including some very smart conservatives, who once believed they saw some possibility of salvaging the country’s reputation and getting out of Iraq under a Romney administration. In broad strokes, both Romney and Obama took the stance of the transformational outsider, the reformer who would change the way things are done in Washington and fix what was broken. Despite the fact that pro-Bush voters tended to back Romney, while anti-Bush voters usually rallied to McCain, I know that some on the right believed that Romney represented something different. Where McCain represented obvious continuity, Romney was perceived by some to represent change (and not in the mocking sense that I and others often applied to him). So there is some slender thread connecting the two that might make sense of a Romney backer switching to Obama.
The NRO mockery is pretty remarkable. Romney’s credentials as a conservative were very freshly-minted and entirely unconvincing to a great many of us, but that didn’t stop a number of people on NRO from boosting him endlessly. Conservatives were allowed to use very flexible, low standards to justify their support of both Romney and Giuliani, despite the fact that both were far to the left of the rest of the field on life issues within very recent memory (and Giuliani still was throughout). Backing Giuliani was absurdly considered to be a perfectly respectable position to take, because his social liberalism and pro-immigration views were supposed to be offset by his
willingness to attack foreign countries concern about national security, but there was nothing demonstrably conservative about his foreign policy agenda, either. There were more than a few people at NRO who were not only willing to accept Giuliani if necessary, but who were openly backing him and deriding other, more obviously conservative candidates, including Huckabee and Paul. The only thing consistent and coherent about any of this was that their preferred candidates were nominally or, in Giuliani’s case, vociferously pro-war.
Now suppose that you had been persuaded to support one of the other Republicans who was not nominated, and you were then faced with the prospect of backing a nominee who basically called your preferred candidate a liar and a defeatist to clinch the nomination. Why would you give that nominee your support? When you get right down to it, the reason for backing Obama becomes clear: he isn’t McCain, and such a person would resent McCain for what he did to his candidate. Perhaps anti-McCain conservatives can find some things about Obama as a man that they find attractive, but fundamentally they are taking their position as a way to thwart McCain’s ambitions. This is something Levin, of all people, should be able to understand. Indeed, if more pro-Obama conservatives put their case in this kind of visceral, “McCain must be defeated at any cost” way, I might almost be inclined to join them. Almost.