Peter Lawler writes:
Our John observes in the thread (from Texas) that nobody he knows is actually voting for Romney. That’s not as true for me, but it is true that nobody I know in the “persuadable” category is doing so. In this respect, Mitt’s campaign is starting to remind us all more and more of McCain’s. Actually, McCain this time would at least be able to take it to Obama on the collapse of his foreign policy.
No, he wouldn’t, and there are a few reasons why. McCain’s hawkish foreign policy views mean that when he differs with Obama he is consistently wrong, and he is also likely to be on the wrong side of public opinion as well. He would face the same political obstacles that Romney does, but would insist on talking about foreign policy even though it would make his election even less likely. In that respect, McCain would be an even more oblivious candidate than Romney has been. McCain has virtually all of the same misguided foreign policy views as Romney, but like Romney he has few meaningful disagreements with Obama’s foreign policy decisions. Like Romney, he would be compelled to make opportunistic and misleading attacks on Obama’s positions, and would harp on endlessly about appeasement that has never happened. McCain would represent even greater continuity with Bush-era foreign policy, since he was a leading cheerleader for it in Congress, and it would be even easier to hang Bush’s failures around McCain’s neck.
Also like Romney, McCain was not opposed to the Libyan war, and as far as I know he never once suggested that there should be any sort of stabilization force in the country after the fall of the old regime*. If Obama erred by choosing to intervene in Libya, as I believe he did, McCain was in even greater error, since he would have insisted on intervening even sooner with less international support. Any criticism McCain might want to make about the situation in Libya after the war is therefore largely opportunistic and hard to take seriously, and the same would be true if he were the nominee this year.
Romney’s campaign is flailing and performing slightly worse than McCain was at this point four years ago. One thing that the two campaigns have in common is that both candidates made high-profile displays of their bad judgment and ineptitude in areas where they were admittedly at their weakest. Unfortunately for them, these happened to be foreign policy for Romney and the economy for McCain. Whatever their other qualifications, these moments showed that they were not prepared for the Presidency. If the McCain campaign was sometimes faulted for having been too passive and not being willing to criticize Obama directly, the Romney campaign has had almost the exact opposite problem. It attacks even when it has nothing to say, and in order to launch those attacks it often makes things up that never happened so that there will be something to criticize. The idea that the Romney campaign is failing because it has been insufficiently aggressive in criticizing Obama may be comforting, but it is very much mistaken. If few people are voting for Romney, it’s probably because the Romney campaign and the party it represents are running on (mostly) nothing.
* That isn’t to say that putting a U.S. or NATO stabilization force in Libya would have been wise. The soldiers deployed in Libya for post-conflict stabilization likely would have come under attack on a regular basis, and the low-cost (to the U.S.) Libyan intervention would have turned into an ongoing conflict with American casualties. Incredibly, one of Romney’s top advisers implied last week that this is what should have been done.