Moderate Republicans, Reformist Conservatives, and Other Animals

A reader writes:

I read your posting on Limbaugh's monologue. There is one point I do not understand. You seem to claim that a bad campaign by McCain justifies moderate Republicans jumping ship. I do not understand why that in anyway justifies the actions of moderate Republicans in endorsing Obama after the Republican party nominated their candidate John McCain over the objections of conservatives. Even if the dubious claim that McCain ran a "substance-free campaign" is true, it should not cause anyone who seriously follows politics into believing that somehow Obama is more in tune with moderate/ centrist/"reformist" Republicans than John McCain. This is simply style over substance at its worst. The fact that a number of "reformist conservatives" have so endorsed Obama suggests a dangerous level of opportunism on the part of these people. It is reasonable for more tradiutional conservatives to conclude on the basis of this action that at least these Obama-endorsing reformist are not to be trusted by any type of conservatives when rebuilding the movement post-McCain. (I am curious. Would you agree with Limbaugh on this at least?)

I would agree that some of the once-Republican figures who have endorsed Obama have done so out of opportunism and/or a desire for attention, yes: In this category I would place figures like Scott McClellan (whose photo appears next to the word "opportunism" in the dictionary, I believe) and Ken Adelman (last seen disavowing any responsibility for the nasty consequences of a war that he loudly supported), among others. Others have endorsed him  for somewhat more principled reasons: If you have the politics of, say, a Colin Powell or a William Weld or a Christopher Hitchens, there's a case to be made that you basically belong in today's Democratic Party anyway. And others still have endorsed him for reasons too tangled, I think, to be applicable to anyone who wasn't born and raised a Buckley.

And no, I wouldn't trust the rebuilding of conservatism to any of these people. But nobody was going to entrust it to them anyway: Scott McClellan, Bill Weld and Christopher Hitchens were not going to be the architects of a new Republican majority in any world you care to imagine. Indeed, you could even flat-out say "good riddance" to them, as Limbaugh wants to do ... if you had a plan for finding converts to conservatism somewhere else. But Limbaugh doesn't have a plan, and what he and others are doing is using the McClellans of the world to pre-emptively discredit anyone else who thinks the GOP needs to reform, rather than retrench. You moderate Republicans, he says: You wanted John McCain, you got him, and now you're all jumping ship! But everybody who disagrees with Limbaugh isn't jumping ship, and going forward the Right doesn't just face a binary choice between Limbaugh's conservatism and McCain's "moderate Republicanism," let alone between Limbaugh and Bill Weld.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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