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The Daily Caller’s editors derive a great deal of pleasure from tweaking Rich Lowry and the editors of National Review. They do it again today, featuring a piece by Matt Lewis that labels Rich, Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O’Bierne with the dreaded “establishment” label, based mostly on NRO’s recent “non-dorsement” of several Republican presidential candidates, notably Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry. And they use my friend Andy McCarthy’s demurrer as evidence that, if the RINO shoes fit, Rich, Ramesh and Kate should wear them.

This is silly internecine trolling for internet hits, and it’s not the first time that the Daily Caller has targeted NRO with a featured hit piece. In the last couple of election cycles, Rich has featured favorable cover stories on a number of insurgent candidates, tea party favorites like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and even the aforementioned Rick Perry. Ramesh has written a piece praising Utah Senator Mike Lee, hardly an establishment type. And no one could ever confuse Kate for Lincoln Chafee or Arlen Specter.  On the whole, the magazine has welcomed and defended the tea party movement any number of times.

So the RINO label simply doesn’t fit.  Does that mean it gets it right every time or that their editorial was perfect? Of course not.  I for one don’t think Jon Huntsman deserved even a first look, let alone a second.  He seems to hold conservatives in contempt — his recent debate answer regarding his favorite Supreme Court justices notably left off both Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, no doubt because they are anathema to the left.  So leaving him standing after knocking down other nominees certainly wasn’t my cup of tea.  But does it make Rich Lowry an establishment Republican?  It’s hard for me to see how it does.

NRO’s editorial on the Presidential race came at a time when I had been doing a great deal of thought (and worrying) about the 2012 election. The truth is that I would have readily supported several Republicans who flirted but didn’t get into the race above the entire field of current candidates. Paul Ryan represents the future (and even present) of the conservative movement: dynamic, intelligent, policy oriented, and not afraid to be bold in tackling our current fiscal problems. That’s something mostly – though not entirely — lacking from the current field.  Jeb Bush, I think, could overcome the conventional wisdom regarding Bush fatigue.  And Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, though perhaps too cautious for my taste on non-economic, social issues, would be a serious answer to the fiscal challenges facing the nation.

But none of them are running. Our friend Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard has been trying for months to get some of the strong non-candidates off the sidelines and into the race, but to no avail.  And while it may be technically possible for a late arrival to win the nomination, the number of states where the primary slate has closed is growing by the hour. 

So we’re left with a collection of flawed candidates. And our (voters, not NRO’s) collective task is to determine which flaws we can live with and which candidate will give us the best chance of defeating President Obama.  With that as the controlling storyline in this election, NRO’s editorial makes some sense.  I suspect Rich would just as soon see the perfect conservative, whoever that is, run for President.  But left with the current field, we must choose between candidates who might not be conservative enough for our liking, who might seem to lack gravitas or who suffer other “electability” problems.  It strikes me that you can prefer any of the Republican nominees to the current President and still have concerns about some of them without losing sight of conservatism’s aims.  And some candidates may simply be better situated to pull off the defeat of the President in November.  Recognizing that doesn’t make Rich a RINO — it makes him a realistic conservative. 



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