Party players who start slamming their own candidate in order to hedge against the risk of a loss are contributing to the loss. South Vietnamese generals weren’t defecting to the enemy when they withheld their divisions from the offensive to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos; they were hedging against the likelihood of defeat. In doing so, they made defeat more likely.
I can’t speak for the people in question, but my impression is that most of the movement conservatives “slamming” their candidate for recent blunders aren’t withholding their support in quite the same way as these generals. None of them is refusing to vote for or endorse Romney, and all of them in different ways have made and presumably will continue to make the case for Romney’s election in spite of the candidate’s incompetence. The important difference here is that these critics still want a Romney victory and believe it is possible. They don’t yet appear to be resigned to losing. They are alerting people in their party to what appears obvious to almost everyone outside of it, which is that the Romney campaign and Romney himself are failing.
It’s important to compare their reaction to the campaign incompetence’s to the one that movement conservative activists and bloggers have typically had. Where Douthat, Noonan, et al. are willing to acknowledge blundering by the candidate in the hopes of getting him to stop doing more of it, the latter are praising him for his mistakes, egging him on to commit more, and pretending that the election can be won by doing even more of what Romney has been doing in the last week. The former recognize incompetence when they see it and want to eliminate it. Predictably, the campaign has reacted by rejecting their advice and thereby confirming the judgment that it is incompetent. The people helping to hasten Romney’s defeat are the ones telling him that he’s done nothing wrong. It is fitting that they are also the people most likely to pin all of the blame for the loss on Romney’s incompetence after he has lost, so that they can distance themselves from the outcome and pretend that it had nothing to do with them. As the old proverb says, “the yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.” Not all of Romney’s critics on the right wish him success, but the people who tell him he has been doing a great job over the last week are the worst enemies he could have.