Noah Millman has the better of this argument over Republican elite “defection” vs. hedging. He comments on Brooks’ criticism of Romney campaign incompetence:

That is not the sound of somebody thinking about switching teams. It’s the sound of somebody despairing that his team doesn’t seem to know how to play the game. Brooks will not be voting for Obama again, and that’s what matters most from an “elite signaling” perspective.

Unlike 2008, there are no high-profile defections to Obama. The so-called Obamacons from four years ago are mostly continuing their support, but there have been no new ones emerging in this cycle. Neither are there very many prominent Republican endorsers of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson could become the logical alternative for Republicans bewildered by Romney’s ineptitude, but fear of turning Johnson into a “spoiler” probably keeps them from making the leap. If there were a sudden rush of prominent conservatives to endorse Obama or Johnson on account of Romney’s repeated displays of incompetence, that would fit Steinglass’ interpretation much better, and we’re not seeing any of that yet.

Steinglass is correct that Romney has lost some movement conservative pundits in the narrow sense that he has said something so preposterous that they aren’t going to try to defend or excuse it. He has “lost” them to the extent that some of them were willing to defend earlier absurd claims Romney made (as Kristol did after Romney’s comments on the embassy and consulate attacks) but are not willing to associate themselves with the remarks captured on the leaked video. There seems to be less of an impulse to stifle criticism of the Republican ticket, or at least of the presidential nominee, than there was four years ago.

When conservative and right-leaning pundits criticized Palin in the waning weeks of the campaign, they were repudiated much more universally and swiftly. Of course, there are still plenty of movement conservative activists that keep defending Romney against almost every criticism, so we shouldn’t exaggerate the number of prominent movement conservatives Romney is “losing” in this narrower sense. Even so, it’s one more in a series of bad signs. The bad news for the Romney campaign is that many more pundits seem to be willing to voice their disgust with the candidate’s ineptitude than they were in 2008, which suggests that their tolerance for ineptitude has decreased or that the ticket and campaign are genuinely doing a worse job than they were four years ago.