Yesterday, National Review endorsed Mitt Romney. This came as a surprise to no one, and it’s significance is unclear. It seems that the operative parts of the endorsement are:
Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest. While he has not talked much about the importance of resisting ethnic balkanization — none of the major candidates has — he supports enforcing the immigration laws and opposes amnesty. Those are important steps in the right direction. …
Romney is an intelligent, articulate, and accomplished former businessman and governor. At a time when voters yearn for competence and have soured on Washington because too often the Bush administration has not demonstrated it, Romney offers proven executive skill. He has demonstrated it in everything he has done in his professional life, and his tightly organized, disciplined campaign is no exception. He himself has shown impressive focus and energy. …
More than the other primary candidates, Romney has President Bush’s virtues and avoids his flaws. His moral positions, and his instincts on taxes and foreign policy, are the same. But he is less inclined to federal activism, less tolerant of overspending, better able to defend conservative positions in debate, and more likely to demand performance from his subordinates. A winning combination, by our lights. In this most fluid and unpredictable Republican field, we vote for Mitt Romney.
They seem to be saying that Romney has checked all the boxes and checked them best. This point was made in a National Review piece last month that described Romney as:
Romney and Thompson, meanwhile, are fighting over who is the most conventional, paint-by-numbers conservative circa 1987. Creative domestic policy is off the table.
Ramesh and Lowry made the argument that the party by the old "circa 1987" model is broken. The issues of today and tomorrow are not the issues of 1987 and at least some people at NRO understand that. What about todays issues? We have globalization, technology, and competition. Romney has good stories to tell on some of these. However, the most defining issue of today’s conservative movement and Republican Party may be national security. And as Ari Richter, the managing editor of the Concord Monitor, points out:
But it’s nonetheless striking that in the first contested Republican primary after 9/11 — and while we remain at war — NR’s editors decided foreign policy experience was not a prerequisite. (See, by contrast, the Union Leader.) Who would have guessed that NR’s endorsement would mention the word "Iraq" once (in the section on McCain!) and the words "Iran," "Islam" and "terrorist" (or variations thereof) not at all?
In other words, in a time that most conservatives think the war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror is the number one issue, National Review doesn’t discuss the issues and reverts to check boxes.
What does that tell us about the conservative movement?