John Bolton: Let's face it, Romney's the conservative who can beat Obama

Et tu, ‘Stache?

With America’s future at stake in November, I decided to support Mitt Romney for three reasons: his Reaganaut philosophy, executive experience and general-election campaign strengths…

Mr. Obama’s manifold failings underscore the final issue: electability. Competitors and politicos are already endlessly analyzing this question, so I’ll make only three brief points.

First, there is an infinitesimally small chance that Mr. Romney will self-destruct in September or October. “No-drama Obama,” meet your match. Second, Mr. Romney has the overwhelming lead in endorsements from Republican senators and representatives—the most aware, self-interested community, bar none, regarding our nominee’s electability. No propensity there to grandiosity or suicide. Third, Mr. Romney shares one of Reagan’s most important and attractive characteristics: being critical without being angry or scornful.

The late Bill Buckley bequeathed us the right test: Pick the most conservative candidate capable of winning. That is clearly Mitt Romney.

Hard not to read those three criteria as a direct dig at Gingrich, which is interesting given how eager Newt was to drop Bolton’s name on the trail. Seriously, though: “His Reaganaut philosophy”? Follow the link and read the piece. The only explicit Reagan comparisons Bolton makes are to Romney’s support for missile defense and to that bit in the blockquote about Mitt’s temperament. Fair enough on the latter, I guess, although Perry managed to rattle him pretty well at one of the debates (“Anderson! Anderson!”), but Gingrich is also a longstanding proponent of missile defense. In fact, Newt’s the guy who’s worried about EMP attacks, not just conventional nuclear strikes. He also opposes the automatic defense cuts triggered by the Super Committee’s failure and he opposed the new START treaty, a position for which Bolton applauds Romney. In fact, the most convincing part of Bolton’s piece isn’t the parallel between Romney and Reagan but the one he draws later between Romney and George H.W. Bush, both of whom are known for “sustained attention, steadiness, persistence, discipline and especially resolve.” That’s a far better analogy for Mitt — the competent if uncharismatic establishment Republican respected for his management skills but not his ideological fervor. But of course, Bush 41 comparisons don’t play well in a primary. Reagan comparisons do, however strained they might be.

Hard to avoid the impression that Bolton endorsed the way he did simply because he’s angling for a role in the next Republican administration and figures Romney’s more likely to win than Newt. Here’s something I can’t figure out, though: Why is Mitt suddenly tacking further right on foreign policy, replete with having Bolton, the avatar of hawkishness, stump for him in South Carolina? He went so far as to disagree publicly with two of his own advisors this week for being too dovish: One of them called for talks with the Taliban, which Romney rejected, and the other — Bush’s CIA chief, Michael Hayden — told reporters that bombing Iran wouldn’t achieve anything. I don’t remember Romney being seriously out-hawked on any international issue at the earlier debates so I’m not sure why he felt obliged to move right now. Especially since, the closer he gets to the nomination, the more he’ll have to figure out a way to appease some of Ron Paul’s anti-war supporters in hopes of winning their votes. Could be that he’s simply determined to run to Obama’s right on foreign policy, but that’ll be tricky given that (a) Obama’s been quite Bushian in many respects, much to the left’s horror, and has Bin Laden’s scalp to wave around in a pinch, and (b) it won’t earn Romney any interest from war-weary independents. Would a Republican nominee with Michael Hayden’s foreign policy, say, really be at risk of bleeding hawkish votes to The One?

Maybe he’s counting on everyone to realize that he’ll flip flop on all of this stuff as circumstances require. Put that Romney reputation to good use for once! Exit quotation from Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller: “If in fact he gets to be president, all of these positions will be rationalized away in the pursuit of the American national interest.”