It is time for Republicans to get serious. After flirting with just about every candidate in a large presidential field, is is time to come home to the one candidate who has the demonstrated ability to run the largest organization in the United States, the Executive Branch of the federal government; who has never been touched by the slightest taint of scandal; whose success in the private sector makes him the outsider that Republicans say they are looking for; and who has by far the best chance of beating President Obama: Mitt Romney.
The “anybody but Romney” mentality that grips many Republicans is, in my view, illogical. It led them to embrace Rick Perry, who turned out to be unable to articulate a conservative thought; Newt Gingrich, whose record is far more checkered than Romney’s; Ron Paul, whose foreign policy views–indistinguishable from those of the far left–and forays into racial intolerance make him unfit to be president; and Michele Bachmann, whom I like very much, but who is more qualified to be a rabble-rouser than a chief executive.
The knock on Romney is that he is “not a real conservative.” Well, I am sure he is not as conservative as I am. But he has a solid record of conservative accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts, and if you check out his economic plan, you will find it to be entirely Reaganite, updated for the crisis we face today. The “Romney isn’t conservative” meme is, frankly, a little weird: in December 2007, National Review endorsed him for president. Has he somehow gotten more liberal since then?
In electing a president, we are choosing someone to run the Executive Branch. A leader, to be sure, but not a speechmaker, a bomb-thrower, a quipster, a television personality or an exemplar of ideological purity. At this point in our history, the United States desperately needs a leader who understands the economy, the world of business, and, more generally, how the world works. We have had more than enough of a leader who was good at giving speeches and was ideologically pure, but who had no clue how the economy works or how the federal government can be administered without resort to graft and corruption. It is time for a president who knows what he is doing.
Romney was not my first choice in this election cycle–Tim Pawlenty was. But Pawlenty’s campaign failed to catch fire, mostly because GOP voters saw him as an “establishment” candidate; that is, perhaps, someone who won tough elections and governed successfully. Around the time Pawlenty’s campaign ended, John Thune gave serious consideration to jumping into the race. If he had done so, I would have supported him, but he didn’t. [UPDATE: I perhaps should add that I know both Pawlenty and Thune personally, consider them friends and have enormous regard for them. I have met Romney and have spent a little time with him, but not much. My preference for Pawlenty and Thune was largely driven by personal acquaintance; I feel that I know them well enough to have confidence in where they would take the country, as president.] There was no real reason to think that other Republicans like Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio would get into the race, and they didn’t. You can’t get elected president if you don’t run for the office, and of those who are running, Mitt Romney is the best, by a very wide margin.
If this sounds lukewarm, it isn’t meant to. Let’s itemize Romney’s virtues.
First, he is a tremendously smart, competent and hard-working person. Many people do not realize what it takes to achieve the extraordinary business success to which Romney devoted most of his adult life. We have, currently, a president who is not particularly bright, knows little of business, has no idea how to run an organization–never having done so before 2009–and would rather golf than work. Replacing this cipher with Mitt Romney, one of the most capable men of his generation, would be an almost unimaginable improvement.
Second, Romney has led an exemplary life. He is, by any ordinary measure, an exceptionally good man. Maybe you care about this, maybe you don’t. My own view is that character counts, usually in ways you can’t foresee. Moreover, to put a purely pragmatic spin on it, the Democrats have nothing on him. Sure, they can mount an anti-Mormon whispering campaign, and they will. But it is highly unlikely that bigotry alone can derail a presidential candidate, especially one as upright as Romney.
Third, Romney has exactly the expertise we need for the next four years. Our country faces an enormous economic and fiscal crisis, brought on by years of politically-motivated fecklessness. We desperately need a president who understands why economic growth occurs and how jobs are created. The Democrats know nothing but payoffs and cronyism; who gets to stay the longest aboard a sinking ship. If ever we needed a president with Mitt Romney’s skills and expertise, that time is now.
Fourth, Romney can and will, I think, beat Barack Obama. The purpose of a political party is to win elections. It would be terminally stupid for the Republican Party to nominate a candidate whose weaknesses more or less guarantee defeat when it has, readily at hand, a candidate who can win. Ideological movements are another animal entirely. The purpose of the conservative movement is to advance conservative ideals, not necessarily to win elections for a particular party. Some conservative ideologues may choose to argue for a purer candidate (although I am not sure who that would be) in service of the long-run interests of the movement. But that is not the role of the Republican Party. The goal of the Republican Party is to win in 2012.
So: I endorse Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for president in 2012. I think he can win, and I think there is a real chance that he could be a great president. Perhaps the man and the hour will meet, as with Churchill in 1940 and Reagan in 1980. But at a bare minimum, Romney can beat Barack Obama, and will be an infinitely better president. The time has come for Republicans to coalesce behind their best candidate.