Ever since John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate and his poll numbers soared and then quickly tanked, his team has experienced a set of slow-but-steady defections by some of America’s most prominent conservative voices. It really began with Andrew Sullivan, the conservative Atlantic blogger who has been waiting in the Jacuzzi for Obama for months now. But he’s been joined recently by a smattering of other serious-minded right-wing pundits, alienated by McCain’s faltering campaign strategy or the simple audacity of Sarah Palin. Today, for example, former George H.W. Bush speechwriter Christopher Buckley was essentially fired for voicing his support of Obama. Below, we’ve arrayed the GOP defectors in order of extreme betrayal: starting with the most lukewarm and ending with the most scorching rebukes.
10. Rich Lowry: What ho?! It’s true. In his syndicated column last week, the man who accepted Chris Buckley’s resignation no-questions asked (even though his magazine, the National Review, was founded by Buckley’s dad) himself has been expressing occasional hesitation over McCain. In last Wednesday’s debate recap, in which he lauded Obama’s unflappability, Lowry observed: “[Obama’s] mild manner and patient responses are his way of saying, ‘There you go again,’ Ronald Reagan’s famous line from the 1980 debate that convinced people he wasn’t too dangerous to be president.” Oh no, Reagan? It was far from an Obama endorsement, but when your base is comparing your opponent to their own hero, you know trouble is on the way.
9. David Brooks: The geeky, patiently right-wing Brooks is a McCain friend and former almost-biographer. Which is why his heartfelt reaction to McCain’s personality changes over the past year are almost unsurprising. “McCain has not made that sort of all-encompassing argument, so his proposals don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts,” he wrote last month. “When people try to tell me that the McCain on the campaign trail is the real McCain and the one who came before was fake, I just say, baloney.”
8. William Kristol: Okay, so Kristol’s main job seems to be spouting (without analysis) any RNC talking point that’s ever been spit out since the invention of the dot-matrix printer. Which makes his column this weekend, in which he urged the Republican nominee to “Fire the Campaign” all the more astounding. He’s not abandoning McCain himself, but he’s abandoning Steve Schmidt and his compatriots, which at this point is even worse.
7. Peggy Noonan: Peggy Noonan has dragged her trademark pearls and arch grace onto every Sunday talk show you can think of to deliver the party line for McCain. But one wonders whether it’s out of guilt — the former Reagan speechwriter is clearly giving in to doubt about the McCain/Palin ticket. She’s the first of a group of conservative heavyweights who clearly feel betrayed by the selection of Sarah Palin. In her column after the vice-presidential debate, she wondered: “[the] question is at what point shiny, happy populism becomes cheerful manipulation?” Perhaps more clear was what mikes overheard during an August MSNBC broadcast after Palin was selected, when Noonan simply declared: “It’s over.”
6. Mike Murphy: Let’s be honest, McCain strategist of yore Mike Murphy has been sour on the McCain campaign for months now — perhaps because he’s not in charge this time around. “McCain is losing,” he pointed out last week. “To regain a chance to win, McCain must run as who he truly is; pragmatic, tough, bi-partisan and ready to break some special interest china to get the right things done in Washington.” Murphy knows McCain will do no such thing in the next twenty days.
5. Kathleen Parker: The National Review columnist will lay it to you straight. Sarah Palin is out of her league. “McCain can’t repudiate his choice for running mate. He not only risks the wrath of the GOP’s unforgiving base, but he invites others to second-guess his executive decision-making ability,” she wrote two weeks ago. “Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first. Do it for your country.” Parker, like Murphy, knows this won’t happen.
4. Charles Krauthammer: The syndicated columnist is the worst kind of detractor: the one who truly believes but who just doesn’t have the strength anymore. In his column from October 3, Krauthammer explained simply: “Krauthammer’s Hail Mary Rule: You get only two per game. John McCain, unfortunately, has already thrown three.”
2. Matthew Dowd: The former Bush strategist isn’t just questioning whether the McCain campaign’s ideas will win with voters — he’s now accusing them of putting the nation in harm’s way. “He knows in his gut he put somebody unqualified on the ballot,” Dowd said, regarding McCain’s choice of Palin for running mate. “And [he] put the country at risk.”
1. Andrew Sullivan: Okay, okay, everybody knows Andrew Sullivan basically wants to be reincarnated as a beagle in the sinewy lap of Barack Obama, nestled comfortably under the Resolute Desk for the next eight years. But still, there was a time this dude had carved out his own steady brand of Republicanism — a maverick version, if you will. Remember when those were the people who were supposed to like McCain?