Charles Pierce at Esquire on the third debate:
BOCA RATON, Fla. — It was early in the proceedings here on Monday night when I was struck with a horrible vision. It may have been right about that moment in the final presidential debate when Willard Romney — who, for most of the past two years, has been the most bellicose Mormon since they disbanded the Nauvoo Legion — looked deeply into the camera's eye and, inches from actual sincerity, said, "We can't kill our way out of this mess." Or, perhaps, it was when, in a discussion of his newfound dedication to comprehensive solutions to complex problems, he announced his devotion to "a peaceful planet," or when he cited a group of Arab scholars in support of loosening the grip of theocratic tyranny in the Middle East.
It was the horrible vision of John Bolton in four-point restraints.
You have to give Romney and his campaign credit. They said they were going to do it. They telegraphed the punch five months ago. They told the entire nation that there would come a day in which everything Willard Romney had said about anything in his entire seven-year quest to be president would be rendered, in the memorable word of Nixon White House flack Ron Ziegler, "inoperative." They told us quite honestly that their entire campaign was going to be based on an ongoing argument between the Willard Romney who ran for the Republican nomination and the Willard Romney who thereupon would run for president. They told us he would renege on his previous positions, and he has. They told us he would reverse his field over and over again, and he has. They told us that the only real principle to which the man will ever hold firm is that he will be utterly unprincipled.
They told us that, sooner or later, everybody who supported him through the primaries because he was the only Republican candidate who didn't sound like he belonged in a padded chapel would find themselves under the bus. And nowhere in his campaign was Romney firmer in his resolve than he was to a modernized version of the neoconservative agenda that so thrilled the world under the leadership of C-Plus Augustus. A full 17 of his 25 primary foreign-policy advisers had been deckhands on that particular plague ship, Sailing Master Bolton chief among them. And, at the end of the day, they all just turned out to be the last people to go sliding under the wheels. For the full 90 minutes of the foreign-policy debate at Lynn University here on Monday night, whether it was the president speaking or Romney, neoconservatism's breath barely clouded the mirror.