The four remaining candidates each have their own pros and cons. Ron Paul was the easiest candidate to discard. On economic issues, Paul is reliable except for the fact that he is one of only four Republicans who still uses earmarks, which makes him somewhat hypocritical on the issue of federal spending. This is a stance that he continues to justify.
More disturbing, however, is Rep. Paul’s stance on Iran and the War on Terror. Paul stands alone among the Republicans in believing that Iran is pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes. He also has repeatedly mischaracterized the National Defense Authorization Act with the claim that it allows the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens in spite of language in the bill that specifically excludes Americans. Further, Paul’s views on prostitution and drug use are outside of the Republican - and American - mainstream.
Newt Gingrich was the second to go. Newt, a fellow Georgian, is a very intelligent man with a lot of great ideas, but he has a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease. A case-in-point is his idea to plant a colony on the moon and eventually admit the moon as a state. This is a time when the country doesn’t need grandiose schemes; it needs a return to the basics.
Just as important is Newt’s difficulty with women. His past relationships and divorces give Newt a tremendous disadvantage with female voters. In an election that is as important as this one, the Republican candidate does not need to start with any more disadvantages than he already has by virtue of being a Republican.
Finally, just as Romney does, Newt has numerous flip-flops. One of the most memorable is a 2008 global warming ad with Nancy Pelosi, but he has also flip-flopped more recently on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to save Medicare. If voters don’t like Romney’s flip-flops, Gingrich’s more recent reversals should disqualify him as well.
In the end, my choice came down to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum is a strong conservative, both socially and fiscally, but his performance in the last debate (which he entered as a frontrunner) was decidedly lackluster. His attempts to defend his senate voting record fell short, even though he made important points about how social issues are driving America’s economic problems. The debate also shows how vulnerable he is to attacks on his senate voting record.
In addition to not being a great public speaker, Santorum also has contracted Newt’s tendency to put his foot in his mouth. In recent weeks, he has fallen prey to Democratic attempts to paint him as an extremist on issues like birth control and prenatal testing. One of Santorum’s strongest moments in the February 22 debate in Arizona was when he said, “You know, here's the difference between me and the left, and they don't get this, just because I'm talking about it doesn't mean I want a government program to fix it.” Nevertheless, Santorum’s views are particularly vulnerable to attack by the Democrats and he has not shown himself adept at returning the debate to the issue at hand: the economy and Barack Obama’s mismanagement of it.
Everyone knows about Mitt Romney’s disadvantages, his flip-flops on social issues, his Massachusetts health care reform, his corporate background, and his 15% effective tax rate. The fact that his negatives are known and old news may be one of Romney’s most important advantages. He has been vetted in two presidential campaigns so there should be few, if any, last minute surprises. This is not true for Gingrich, whose links to Fannie Mae are still being explored, or for Santorum, who has never faced national scrutiny and was almost ignored in the campaign until two months ago.
Further, Romney has leadership experience, both as a businessman and a governor. Gingrich and Santorum were legislators (although Gingrich did have a leadership role as Speaker of the House). There is a vast difference between writing laws and leading a country. This may explain why so few senators (and even fewer representatives) become president. Since WWII, only five presidents were also senators. Two of these, Truman and Johnson, assumed the presidency after the death of the preceding president. Only two, Kennedy and Obama, went directly from the senate to the Oval Office. With the exception of Truman and Kennedy (whose administration was too short to accomplish much) and specifically including President Obama, these senator-presidents have dismal records.
Romney has also developed into an effective speaker and debater. He has been the most consistent of any of the candidates throughout the long series of Republican debates. While he has not always soared, neither has he turned in poor performances. With a few exceptions, and these mostly taken out of context, such as the “I don’t care about the very poor” and “I like being able to fire people” comments, he has avoided gaffes in his speeches. Most people probably agree with Romney when they hear these comments in their entirety. Further, when people realize that his comments were taken out of context and misrepresented, they are likely to sympathize with Mitt and like him even more. The ability to fire people is a plus for anyone who believes that the federal government is too large and intrusive and is dire need of scaling back.
All of the top three Republican contenders offer solid conservative visions for the country. All three would implement pro-growth policies and scale back the federal government. All three would work to repeal Obamacare. All three would stand against Iran. All three would be vastly preferable to President Obama. The question is which of them would be best able to get elected, implement their plans, and lead congress and the nation in the right direction. Mitt Romney seems to be that candidate.
A Gallup poll from December 2011 shows that only Gingrich and Romney are acceptable to a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Santorum was the least acceptable, scoring below even Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Gingrich however, has a much higher unfavorable rating to overcome according to a separate Gallup poll from February 2012.
Tellingly, Romney has secured the endorsements of many Republicans who worked with both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Much of Santorum’s support comes from social conservatives, while Gingrich has the backing of many southerners and Tea Partiers, but both have the support of few of the people in Washington that the next president will need to work with. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul has little support among Republicans in general. His website lists primarily actors and third party politicians as supporters. Romney obviously has the support of most of the Republicans in Washington who will be called upon to enact the new president’s policies into law.
Further, Obama and the Democrats have spent more of their time and money attacking Romney than any of the other GOP candidates. This means that Obama considers Romney the biggest threat to his re-election. It is easy to see why President Obama would prefer to face Newt, Rick Santorum, or especially Ron Paul. In fact, Michigan Democrats were recently encouraged to go to the polls for Rick Santorum.
But what about Romney’s flip-flops on social issues and gun control? For starters, the fact that he has changed his mind once makes it harder for him to change it again. His reversals of opinion came years ago and he has been consistent since then. Further, his more moderate to liberal positions on social issues came when he was the governor of Massachusetts, a deep blue state. If he had adopted a more conservative platform there, he would not have been elected in the first place. Moreover, much of Romney’s so-called liberal record, like his record on abortion, has been greatly exaggerated.
There is no chance that Romney will go to Washington and pursue a liberal social agenda. With a Republican majority in the House of Representatives (and probably in the Senate as well after the election), Romney could not pass liberal social legislation even if he wanted to (and there is no indication that he does). Romney’s record is one of being pro-growth and pro-freedom. Obama’s record, even before he became president, was an indication of his agenda for whoever cared to look.
In the end, Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney would all make fine presidents (and Ron Paul would make a fine Treasury secretary), but for voters who want to make sure that Barack Obama is not re-elected, Mitt Romney is the most practical choice. He has consistently led the other candidates in head-to-head matchups against the president in addition to his other advantages. Above all else, avoiding a second Obama term and beginning the process of repairing the damage of his first term is what this election is all about. Voters should remember as they go to the polls however, that to fix Obama’s mistakes, a candidate first has to beat Obama in November. Mitt Romney is the candidate most likely to do so.
Originally published on Examiner.com: