[Posted by Karl]
Commentary’s Jonathan S. Tobin (tough competition for Jennifer Rubin as the media’s most shameless Mitt Romney shill) defends National Review’s anti-endorsement of Newt Gingrich against the critics:
The latest to vent his spleen about this alleged betrayal of conservative principle is Jeffrey Lord who wrote in the American Spectator that the attack on Gingrich was akin to NR’s founder William F. Buckley blasting Barry Goldwater in 1964 or Ronald Reagan in 1980. His point was not just that any of the other conservatives still in the race was better than Romney but that Buckley’s magazine had become the moral equivalent of the old-line GOP establishment that its founder had spent his life battling.
But Lord’s anguish is misplaced. Newt Gingrich isn’t Ronald Reagan. Neither is Rick Santorum, Michele Bachman [sic] or Rick Perry. And if you really think any of them are worthy successors to Barry Goldwater, does anyone on the right believe another 1964-style wipeout that would mean four more years of President Barack Obama is a good idea?
A focus on winning in 2012 is what many conservatives think is wrong with NR’s editors and others who have come to grips with the fact that Romney is the Republicans’ best chance for victory next November. Lord, and others who agree with him are not really arguing that Gingrich should be president any more than they are making a serious case for Perry, Bachmann or Santorum. None of them have a ghost of a shot at beating Obama though all of them can make a much better case than Gingrich for representing a consistent conservative stance on the majority of the issues. Rather, Lord seems to be making the case that ideological purity is a higher value than electability.
What does Tobin have against strawmen that causes him to beat them so repeatedly? His column makes most of the same errors John Hawkins made earlier this week in claiming Romney is unelectable. Like Hawkins, Tobin likely exaggerates the impact of ideology on voter choices, ignoring the fundamentals. The general consensus among political scientists is that in presidential elections, the dominant factor is the economy, with candidate ideology being a distant second. Indeed, the studies suggest that a moderate does 1% or 2% better. The 1964 wipeout of Barry Goldwater is remarkably well-explained by the fundamentals of peace and prosperity that year. Absent the most remarkable economic turnaround in American history, a 1964-magnitude loss would probably not be in the cards for any of the candidates Tobin mentions.
This is not to argue that only the fundamentals matter; in October, I would have placed the odds of Obama’s re-election at better than one-in-seven, and they are likely even better now. Rather, the point is that people who fixate on electability at the expense of the fundamentals tend to lapse into foolish arguments. They also tend to be unknowingly drenched in irony. If you want to fixate on electability, ideology is part of the mix, but so is the very basic Dale Carnegie notion of making friends and influencing people. The snide arrogance of many Romney supporters is every bit as annoying to others as the spoon-banging of True Conservatives claiming they will stay home in November if Romney is nominated. The voices shouting the loudest on both sides about electability seem to have a shaky grasp on the concept.