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Republicans: On the eve of the election, a house divided

As the race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain heads into its final days, the GOP has been shaken by a series of defections.

Right in front of our very eyes, the Republican Party is falling apart, said Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times. As the race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain heads into its final days, the GOP has been shaken by a series of dismaying defections, with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, conservative scion Christopher Buckley, and right-wing talk show host Michael Smerconish all endorsing Barack Obama. To rub salt in the wound, some of the nation’s most influential conservative pundits—including Charles Krauthammer, David Frum, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, and George Will—have expressed admiration for Obama’s intellect and temperament, and dismay at the negative tone of McCain’s campaign and his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Brooks recently called Palin a “cancer” on the GOP, while Buckley, the son of National Review founder and conservative icon William F. Buckley, said his father would have been “appalled’’ by Palin’s folksy affectations and philosophical incoherence. In the past, said Patricia Cohen in The New York Times, conservative intellectuals insisted that “ideas have consequences.” Now, with a Republican president effectively nationalizing banks, McCain changing his message from week to week, and angry rallies cheering Palin’s populist attacks on pointy-headed Eastern intellectuals, that sound you hear is “the sound of a movement splintering at its foundation.’’

It’s a conservative crackup, all right, said Kathleen Parker in National Review Online, and for that, you can blame the GOP’s subjugation by its “extreme right wing.” In place of well-considered, consistent conservative principles, we have the red-hot fury of partisans for whom politics is blood sport—a test of tribal loyalty. When I suggested in a recent column that Sarah Palin was clearly unqualified and should excuse herself from the Republican ticket, I received 12,000 irate e-mails, including one expressing regret that my mother didn’t abort me. In the hands of McCain and Palin, said David Brooks in The New York Times, modern conservatism has been reduced to simplistic class warfare against “the coastal elite.” That class-warfare strategy may have worked for George W. Bush, but the disdain for the educated class and big cities is now coming home to roost. Lawyers, doctors, tech executives, even investment bankers all now heavily favor the Democrats with their votes and their contributions—and why wouldn’t they? The Republicans have, in effect, told them to go away. As for McCain, one day he’s a “small-government Western conservative,” and the next, he’s a Bull Moose progressive, denouncing Wall Street for “greed.” McCain—like the Republican Party itself—“has no central argument.”

Spare me the high-minded rationales for betrayal, said Victor Davis Hanson in Pajamasmedia.com. The exodus of conservative intellectuals from the ranks of those who support the Republican ticket is driven by polls showing Obama with a comfortable lead; now that the train appears to be “leaving the station,” the chattering classes of the Right are hoping to salvage their invitations to cocktail parties in Manhattan and Georgetown. There, they can join triumphant liberals in sniggering about Palin and her husband, Todd, who no doubt spend their dinner parties talking about “the proper chokes on shotguns or optimum RPMs on snow machines.” Look closely at the deserters’ explanations of why they now support Obama, said Sam Dealey in USNews.com. Buckley, for example, criticizes McCain for losing his “authenticity,” but then speculates that the most liberal Democrat in the Senate “would suddenly perform a U-turn,” abandon his plan to raise taxes, and govern as a centrist. Talk about “the triumph of hope over reason.” Denounce the “rats’’ for fleeing the sinking ship, if you like, said Ross Douthat in TheAtlantic.com. But even if we assume the worst—that the Parkers and Noonans and Buckleys are “all just snobs and careerists” who are abandoning McCain out of personal expediency—what’s the best course of action: “denouncing the rats, or trying to figure out why the hell the ship is sinking?” Let it sink, said Rod Dreher in Beliefnet.com. During the Bush presidency, conservatives became “ossified” in their thinking, and more interested in preserving their power than creatively applying conservative principles to the real world. Once we’re out of power, we’ll be free to argue among ourselves, and once again embrace a “freethinking audacity.” Just watch: It will be the most exciting era for conservatives since William F. Buckley himself set out “to change the world.”

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