His [Brooks’] position doesn’t stray much from the neo-conservative position, in which foreign policy rules supreme, and limited government is of little concern. ~Mark Levin

As opposed to all the great constitutionalist champions who fill the movement to overflowing these days, for whom limited government is a top priority and foreign policy is an afterthought?  This criticism would be much more telling against Brooks if it weren’t also applicable to a huge number of conservative columnists.  If mainstream conservatives want to complain about the rise of McCain, they probably ought to consider how they have empowered or acquiesced to ”the neo-conservative position, in which foreign policy rules supreme, and limited government is of little concern” over the past ten years and more.  If you allow your movement and your party to be made over in the image of Bush, don’t be terribly surprised when his natural ideological heirs receive a lot of votes from those who call themselves conservative.        

Now no one can possibly confuse me with a David Brooks fan or with someone friendly to the policy agenda of neoconservatives or their preferred candidates, and obviously I don’t endorse Brooks’ meliorism or “reform” agenda, but there is something distinctly odd about the degree of hostility shown to these two candidates relative to that shown to Giuliani or Romney.  Besides their capacity to send talk radio hosts into seizures, Huckabee and McCain have something else in common: they come from those parts of the country where the core constituencies of the party actually live and work, while Romney and Giuliani come from places where conservative Republicans are something of a rare, exotic species and Republicans of any kind are a dying breed.  I can’t help but think that this has something to do with the antipathy towards the former and the leniency shown to the latter.   

If anyone represents the tradition of the “Nixon-Ford domestic agenda — i.e., a muck of compromises and government expansion that surrenders the ideological playing field to the Left or, if you will, an incremental socialism which Brooks sets forth as a new way,” it would probably have to be the man who gave you MassCare, just promised a boatload of subsidies to the auto industry and has been pro-life for less time than I have been in graduate school.  Romney grew up in a Rockefeller Republican family and belonged to that tradition until it became convenient for him to discover the virtues of Reaganism.  By the standards that these people condemn McCain, they would have to throw Romney overboard as well, but they simply don’t spend the time or energy doing this.  Their general indifference to the obvious frauds Romney perpetrates against the public in his campaign shows the hollowness of their complaints against the other two.  McCain is, of course, well to the left of me, he is deeply, amazingly wrong on immigration and foreign policy, and I will oppose his candidacy as much as I possibly can, but he has actually been to the right of Giuliani and Romney (which isn’t saying that much, but there it is) for decades.  The mind that can accept the turnaround artist who has turned himself 180 degrees on virtually everything as acceptable, but regards flawed but consistent candidates as beyond the pale, is a very confused one.  There was simply nothing like the intense attacks against McCain when Giuliani was the putative frontrunner, and by comparison Romney has been given a very easy time of it from conservative media, all of which points to the cynicism of at least some of those who protest against McCain and Huckabee’s deviations. 

P.S.  Just on an empirical point, Brooks’ claim that conservative voters have not followed conservative leaders is basically accurate.  In total votes, Huckabee/McCain have received 849,956 votes (per TownHall’s count, which apparently doesn’t include Wyoming) and Romney/Thompson have received 633,715 votes.  If you add in Ron Paul’s numbers to the total of voters not following conservative leaders, the margin obviously grows.  Even when you acknowledge that McCain has led among conservative voters only once this year (South Carolina) and independents have been an important source of support for McCain, Huckabee and Paul, it remains the case that most conservatives chose candidates other than Romney and Thompson in every contested race.  Given the choice between the vilified deviants and the approved candidates, most people voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses opted for the former.  That is significant, and these results are also generally in line with national surveys that ask Republicans which candidate “shares their values.”