What Ever Happened to the Obama Republicans?


The president racked up prominent GOP backers four years ago. Surprisingly, not all of them have given up on him.

Obama supporters rally in Youngstown, Ohio, in March 2008 2012. (Reuters)

One of the more interesting sideshows to candidate Barack Obama's 2008 campaign was the steady trickle of prominent conservatives who publicly announced they were backing the Democrat against the GOP's standard-bearer, Senator John McCain. Among the big names: Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight; Colin Powell; Christopher Buckley, son of National Review founder William; former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. It was a euphoric time, and Obama seemed to promise great things.

Even for Obama's staunchest backers, this election is very different. The economy, which collapsed not long before Obama won, remains bogged down; disenchantment with Obama's policy priorities is high; and instead of McCain, Obama faces Mitt Romney, whose record as a pragmatic, moderate governor in Massachusetts that would presumably appeal to the "Obamacons." So are they sticking with Obama or flocking to Romney? Michael Brendan Dougherty checked in with a few of them and found that it's a mixed bag.

Exploring the reasoning of the thinkers most satisfied and most dissatisfied with Obama can be instructive. Jeffrey Hart is the Obamacon most pleased with his choice, and he is anxious to see the president rewarded with a second term. He did not simply swallow his vote as if it were bad medicine; he argues positively that a true conservative has no choice but to help elect Obama again .... [Megan] McArdle occupies the opposite pole. "Overall, I wildly underestimated Obama's arrogance and inexperience," she says.

Most Obamacons are not as certain as these two, but there are discernible trends. If an Obamacon's primary concerns are fiscal and economic ([Kevin] Gutzman, McArdle), they are likely to support Romney with sighs and reservations. If their concerns are primarily about foreign policy ([Scott] McConnell, [Andrew] Bacevich), they are more likely to vote for Obama, with some regret and trepidation. "Second terms are usually worse than the first," admits McConnell.

Overall, the whole crop seems to find itself largely without a party. They're skeptical of Romney but disillusioned with Obama. Bruce Bartlett says he doesn't even intend to bother casting a ballot.

The remaining affection for Obama is surprising. After all, even Republicans who opposed Obama in 2008 seemed willing to give him a chance at first. Now, it's tough to find any prominent examples -- not that it's unusual for parties to toe the line before a presidential election. And the most high-profile Obamacons, especially Colin Powell, have not yet delivered their endorsements.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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