Horses and bayonets. That's the most memorable phrase from the presidential debate last night - a phrased used by President Obama to school Romney on the modernization of the military. At the debate, Mr. Romney showed up with a severe case of Romnesia, and President Obama promptly mopped the floor with him. Romney tried to make it the "me, too" debate by appearing to agree with the President on everything, not only raising the question, well then, why is he running? - but also allowing President Obama to point out positions Romney took just weeks ago, correctly painting him as someone not ready to lead. And that matters, more than anything, in foreign policy.
But while the President and his team got smart about Romney's propensity to abandon all his positions to win votes and appear a bumbling fool in the process, last night's debate may have had a worse effect on Mitt Romney than just the Obama campaign accusing him of lacking a core. Conservatives - namely, neoconservatives - are now flipping out at Romney's bizarre about-face. A pain-stricken Glenn Beck sent out this tweet last night:
There are other tweets floating around, for example from Laura Ingram blaming Romney for not hitting the president hard enough. Maybe this is nothing more than the usual suspects bellyaching on the right. But I don't see it that way. Movement conservatives have become so radical these past four years that all they care about is beating - and beating up - Barack Obama. Policy is irrelevant to them, and they have more than proven it by viciously opposing every single idea that the President has endorsed - even ones they came up with. Last night, Romney failed to beat up on Obama. He didn't just failed to beat up on the president; he failed to even try.
After the first debate, the movement conservatives did not care that Mitt Romney abandoned everything he ran on in the primary; they cheered Romney because through his lies, he managed to give the impression that he was beating up the black guy. For a moment, he was the right wing's favorite candidate: a bully who gets his way. In the second debate, the wingbats stuck with Romney even after his clear defeat because they saw him as at least trying to throw some hard punches at President Obama.
But in the third debate, Romney gave up any semblance of even an attempt to throw punches. He didn't simply adapt President Obama's positions, he credited the president for them. And when the President used every opening to floor Romney and expose his ignorance of foreign policy - whether it be about our military, our relations with other countries or our posture in the world - Mitt Romney could do nothing more than to look on with a sweaty upper lip. The President was on the offense, and Romney simply sat there and took it.
That is what is bothering conservatives and neocons. It's not so much that they are concerned about his sudden agreement with President Obama on foreign policy. It's his abject failure to portray the president himself as foreign that's bugging the hell out of the right wing. There is a base-level contempt for the President among the right wing - which was reflected in Mitt Romney in the first two debates but which Romney failed to put on display in this one. The thing fueling conservative voter 'enthusiasm' is this blatant hatred - in the form of racism, birtherism and careless disrespect for the President of the United States. The moment their standard bearer fails to reflect that contempt, that enthusiasm might well wane.