The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf gives us an interesting peek at a vast “whither conservatism” debate at Commentary that’s mostly going on behind a paywall. A lot of it seems to revolve around how to feel and behave about “the 47%,” with the prevailing sentiment naturally being that treating Social Security beneficiaries as “moochers” isn’t very smart politically.

But it sounds like pretty much everybody is ready to dump on Mitt Romney. And here’s Friedersdorf’s comment on that:

The debate about Mitt Romney is usually portrayed as pitting those who believed him to be “too conservative” against those who found him not conservative enough. That is one rift, but as you’ve seen, there are so many others. These disagreements are almost always present in national parties. But it seems to me that they’re particularly hard for the GOP to resolve after this particular defeat, partly because Romney was so obvious and shameless about changing his positions — any faction can plausibly disclaim him — and partly because conservatives themselves flip-flopped: So many movement types who formally endorsed Romney in the 2008 GOP primaries were denouncing him and casting madly about for anyone else just four years later, even though his positions and rhetoric only got more “severely” conservative in the interim.

In retrospect, it’s easier to understand how Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 than to understand how he became the “true conservative alternative” candidate four years earlier, endorsed by Jim DeMint and National Review, and regularly touted by Rush and various Fox personalities. This, more than anything else, probably inhibited conservative criticism of Romney during the 2012 primaries: they couldn’t credibly claim he’d “moved to the left” since they lionized him, and nobody wanted to come right out and admit that Romney’s 2012 positioning as Mr. Moderate reflected a hard shift to the right by the party as a whole.

All in all, everything about Mitt Romney’s candidacy makes him someone Republicans want to forget as soon as is possible: not just because of what he did wrong, but because he so frantically tried to make the conservative movement’s own questionable positions and attitudes his own–and conservatives know it.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.