In 2008, several Republicans endorsed Democratic then-Sen. Barack Obama over the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain. But heading into 2012, many of the “Obamacons,” as The Economist dubbed them four years ago, have become disenchanted with the president, actively unwilling to vote for him or uncommited.
Of the 17 “Obamacons” who spoke to The Daily Caller over the past couple of months, seven said they still plan to vote for Obama, three expressed displeasure with both Obama and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney, three said they remained undecided, and four declined to comment.
Among those who have become disenchanted with Obama — but remain equally unenthusiastic about Romney — are foreign policy expert Andrew Bacevich; Bruce Bartlett, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; and center-right blogger and archaeologist Dorothy King.
“I supported Obama in 2008 in considerable part because the alternative was John McCain. By comparison, Obama seemed to offer a less militarized approach to foreign policy,” Bacevich emailed in June. “In that regard, he has proven to be a disappointed [sic]. Obama’s way of making war may be his own, but in his continued penchant for using force, he’s not offered much by way of change.”
“I really don’t know who I will vote for this time,” he concluded. “The choices are unappealing.”
Bartlett has similar sentiments, and said he simply plans not to vote, “as of right now.”
“As you know, I have nothing but disdain for the Republican Party, so I can’t vote for Mitt Romney,” he told TheDC in a phone interview. “But on the other hand, I just don’t think Obama has done anywhere near a good enough job. I think he’s just not shown the leadership that circumstances required. So I can’t really support either of them.”
Bartlett said there was a “small possibility” that he might end up supporting Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, but that for the moment, he was not enthused by him either.
“My comments about Obama don’t mean that I regret my vote for him in 2008,” Bartlett clarified. “I still think that was the right vote at that time. But like I said, we now have almost four years of experience, so that’s why I said what I said.”
King, who “came out” as an Obamacon in a 2008 post on her blog, Dorothy King’s PhDiva, said that four years later, she finds herself utterly unexcited by either candidate.
“Governor Romney was a good governor of MA, but I don’t like the way he’s been pushed to pander to the extremes of the fringes of the party,” she emailed. “I also would want to know who his VP candidate would be — I like Condi. I’d vote for Romney alone, but can’t as voting GOP drags in too much other nonsense these days, mostly over what I, a woman with a high education, am to be allowed to do with my womb.”
“President Obama ran on hope, and the problem with that is that we all have different hopes and will only end up disappointed — he talked a lot but made few promises and one of those was to close Gitmo. He didn’t,” she went on.
“On days like this,” she wrote, “I want to vote for ‘None of the Above.'”
Four former Obamacons declined to comment on their plans for the November election. Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel — who never officially endorsed Obama, but who often praised him, and whose name was often included in articles about the Obamacons — declined to speak through a spokeswoman at the Atlantic Council, of which he is now chairman.
The spokeswoman, Taleen Ananian, emailed to say that he would “not be available on this topic.” A staffer at Georgetown University, where he works as a professor in the School of Foreign Service, agreed to pass along the question, but said that the senator was most likely uninterested in commenting.
Reached by phone, David Ruder, a Security and Exchange Commission chairman under Reagan, said, “I’m not going to give you that information. Sorry.”
Former South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler said he was “going off to teach in Paris, and because of that I am just keeping my council.” Pressed further, he replied, “I’m just going to stay neutral here for awhile until I get my class started.”
Former Republican Rep. Jim Leach, another Obamacon, is now serving as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a position President Obama appointed him to. In response to an inquiry about his plans for 2012, NEH Director of Communications Judy Havermann emailed, “Chairman Leach believes in the importance of bipartisan governance and agreed to head a nonpartisan agency under President Obama. He supports the president but doesn’t comment on electoral politics in his work.”
Others said they had not yet decided.
Former Oklahoma Rep. Mickey Edwards, reached by phone, said, “I don’t have any plans for this year.” Asked whether he planned to vote at all, he said, “Well, yeah, I mean, probably. But I haven’t made any decisions about what I’m gonna do. I’ve been very involved in my work so I haven’t been involved in politics at all this year.”
Edwards admitted to voting for President Obama in an interview with NPR the day after the 2008 election.
Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 2008 endorsed Obama and subsequently left the Republican Party, registering as an independent, said a decision was pending.
“I will be making a decision on the campaign just after Labor Day,” she emailed. “Please feel free to call me then. I am not sure I have much to say until the end of August as I am out of the city and meeting a deadline.”
Former Republican Minnesota Sen. David Durenburger describes himself as in the “56/100th of a percent who haven’t made up their mind,” and when he says that, it’s not just to avoid the discussion — it’s clearly a topic that the former senator has thought about at great length.
“While I’ve never met the man, I’m a strong supporter of the president and the presidency, and, you know, the job that he’s trying to do, you know, as president. But like many people, I am concerned about his ability to carry that on for another four years given the environment in which we live,” Durenburger said in a phone call with TheDC.
“And I look at the alternative,” he went on, laughing, “and I say, well, you know, where’s the plan? Where’s the plan? So I’m ambivalent. I’m seriously ambivalent, and I know I’m gonna have to make a decision, but I haven’t been persuaded one way or the other.”
Four years may have left some disillusioned and unsure, but several Obamacons remain committed — to varying degrees — in their support for the president.
“I’ll probably vote for him again,” said Francis Fukuyama, an economist and historian who is closely tied to the neoconservative movement, though he has moved away in recent years.
“I just think the Republican Party has drifted so far to the right that I just find most of the positions they’ve taken on a lot of things too extreme. So I just, you know, don’t think it’s the old party,” he said. “I mean I’ve had disappointments with Obama in a lot of ways as well, but between the two, I prefer him.”
Charles Fried, who served as U.S. solicitor general under Reagan, said that this year, “it’s very likely to be Obama again” that gets his vote, and said that decision had as much to do with Obama as it did his opponent.
Asked why he planned to vote for Obama, he replied, “Because the Republican nominee has shown himself to be a man of bad character.”
“He’s a man who is willing to say anything. And as Napoleon said, the man who is willing to say anything will do anything,” Fried said.
John Hutson, a retired Navy rear admiral and judge advocate general, and a lifelong Republican, switched parties for the first time to vote for Obama in 2008, and said he, too, is likely to vote for the president once again.
“Unless there is a phenomenal sea change that I can’t begin to anticipate, I will eagerly vote for [the president] again,” Hutson emailed. “He hasn’t done everything I wanted him to do; in retrospect I think he probably should have been tougher with Congress. Every one time he conceded something as a show of good will and compromise, that became the new starting point for negotiations. He should have let the tea party and House GOP hoist themselves on their own petard.”
“That said, I think he has done a remarkable job in the face of history-setting adversity. … We live in difficult and perilous times, but I can sleep well knowing the president is at the helm driving the ship of state,” Hutson added.
Jim Whitaker, the Republican former Mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska, said unequivocally that he planned to vote for Obama.
“I think he’s done the best he can. I think he has hit a very difficult period of time in the political landscape, and worked his way through it on the domestic side as best he could. I think he’s done a good job with regard to foreign affairs, and so, on balance, I think he has done the best that could be expected, all things considered. And I trust him. And I do not trust his opponent,” Whitaker said in a phone interview.
“I trust him because he has attempted to keep the commitments that he made, and I think he begins his consideration on issues from a perspective that is more center based, whereas Gov. Romney is very difficult to understand where he begins his consideration, and therefore very difficult to determine what his conclusions will be,” Whitaker explained.
Whitaker said he remains a “right of center” registered Republican.
Lou Thieblemont, the Republican former Mayor of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, will also vote for Obama this year, according to his wife, Lynn Thieblemont.
“He’s not here right now, but I can tell you that he’s a very avid supporter of Obama still,” she told TheDC when reached by phone.
“I think there’s no hesitation there,” she said later. “He thinks Obama is doing a great job, and he’s horrified at the thought of Mitt Romney winning.”
Douglas Kmiec, who served as deputy assistant attorney general and assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel under Reagan, told TheDC in an extensive phone interview that he still stands firmly behind Obama, who appointed him U.S. ambassador to Malta.
“I’m unquestionably going to vote for him again because his work is unfinished, and his promise is great, and the need is even greater,” Kmiec said.
“He has made a few mistakes there. … But on balance, the things that motivated me to support him in the first place is decency; his discernment and judgment and intelligence; his concern for the poor; his concern for the average family — the family that’s trying to keep a house from foreclosure, the family that’s trying to live on a family wage; concern about the physical environment and the serious challenges that exist there because of our extensive use of fuels that create greenhouse gases and so forth that are ruining the atmosphere; and just the fact that he still embodies in so much of what he says and hopes to do and has started to do, the social justice mission of the Catholic Church, which I am of course a part of and work for constantly.”
Kmiec endorsed Romney in the Republican primary in 2008, but when he lost to Sen. John McCain, Kmiec endorsed Obama. Now, he said, he simply felt Obama was the better man for the job. Romney sees “only the most narrow conservative vision of how life needs to be,” Kmiec said, suggesting he still adhered to an outdated form of conservatism that was no longer appropriate for modern times. Obama, he said, was more willing to look for “common ground” and work in a bipartisan manner.
Andrew Sullivan, a blogger for The Daily Beast, still considers himself a conservative, but supports Obama in 2012 as he did in 2008. In a post on Monday, Sullivan once again made ““The Conservative Case for Obama,” in which he argues that Obama is actually the more conservative candidate.
“My post yesterday says it all,” he emailed TheDC. “The only nonpartisan non fanatical conservatives I know of are for Obama. No other option makes sense to me.”