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Mar 31 2012

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Mitt Romney for President

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A Time For Choosing...

By and large, it has been a most unserious Republican primary in the most consequential of years.

The “A” Team, or what was conceived of as the “A” team, took a pass with Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour, among others, sending regrets.

The suddenly wide-open nature of the GOP primary created by that vacuum set up a political carnival that was as entertaining as it was vacuous.

As we sit here today, let us remember that Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain all once led opinion polls among Republicans. So did Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, done in ultimately by gaffes and a profound lack of discipline, respectively.

The single constant over the past year as these other candidates rose and fell has been Mitt Romney.

On paper, Romney is an unlikely fit for the 2012 Republican nomination.

A former governor of a liberal state. A New Englander running in a party deeply rooted in the south and west. A patrician, scion of well known family,whose personal wealth creates a real experiential gap from a party of socially conservative working class/middle class activists.

And there were the flip-flops.

On abortion, gay rights and climate change for starters.

Then there were the pledges of independence from orthodoxy that appeared like de facto slaps at the paragon of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan.

And of course, the “Big Kahuna” the passage of Romneycare, which has been sighted by Democrats and Republicans alike as the basis for its nationwide progeny, Obamacare.

For these sins, Romney was dismissed as unreliable, or worse, unelectable, despite a field of challengers who were clearly unreliable and unelectable.

Yet, despite the derision from politicos and the media, and the antics of his more colorful opponents, Romney was undeterred as he went about the nuts and bolts business of building a campaign.

He put in place a durable fundraising operation. He created real campaign infrastructure in primary states. A policy shop churned out position papers on consequential issues.

In the debates, which framed the pre-primary contests leading up to Iowa, Romney embodied an understated but unflappable confidence. His debate performances were solid, and got better as time went on. He not only showed a command of the issues and remarkable message discipline, but the ability to think on his feet and turn a question or issue to his advantage.

Moreover, in the debates that raged after Iowa, and in the ups and downs in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, Romney never shied away from taking the fight to his opponents. Genial and polite to a fault as a matter of character, Romney understood that winning required contesting his opponents forcefully, perhaps even brutally, and he did this without apology.

And that’s important. Americans are inherently conflicted about the quality they most want in a president, best summed up in the idea of a “Benign Warrior.”

We want a peacemaker with a positive vision for America and its role in the world.  A careful steward of American power. A reflection of our better angels.

But if we are threatened or in danger, we want to know the President can deploy brass knuckles without remorse or bouts of conscience, in order to assure our protection.

Romney showed this characteristic in the campaign and debates, appealing to the best, but willing to do what is necessary.

Still, even after his win in Florida, Romney competed with Rodney Dangerfield, seeking respect that would not come.

He was too stiff.

To the extent that his emotions did show up on the campaign trail, they appeared forced at best or contrived at worst.

He made regrettable gaffes.

And despite having weak and underfunded opponents, Romney couldn’t seem to put the nomination away, making him appear as little more than the strongest of a very weak Republican field, where social conservatives refused to be mollified.

So, how amazing is it that, despite all these limitations and shortcomings, Romney has built up a nearly insurmountable delegate lead in just 90 days?

Which is the crux of the matter.

I don’t support Mitt Romney today because he is the mathematical nominee, as some form of fait accompli. Rather, I support him because of what he was able to do to get to this position.

It is simple human nature to pine for the ideal. So, there was a general assumption that Bush, or Barbour or Christie or Daniels would be better candidates.  But Rick Perry’s experience is a cautionary tale of what can happen when expectations meet reality.

It is easy to criticize from the $5 seats, but unlike others, Romney was willing to put his name and reputation on the line and actually compete. And unlike previous, proverbial front runners – Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush – Romney has spent much of the primary campaign as a challenger to whatever flavor of the month had topped the polling charts.

During that time, he has been steady and unflappable despite loud criticism and little credit.

In sum, Romney has earned the nomination; the hard way, one state at a time.

And what we have seen in Romney are the qualities that will serve the GOP well with him as nominee and potentially president.

He has been methodical and disciplined.

Indeed, despite the checkered record on past issues, Romney has been remarkably consistent through the campaign, tactically highlighting differences with his opponents, but remaining true to the principles and positions that he began with.

More than any other candidate, Romney has used the primary contest to keep an eye on his ultimate opponent, President Obama, blending the themes that serve as a basis for both a primary and general election match up.

Despite the dust up over Etch-a-Sketches, from the beginning, Romney has cannily staked out a center-right campaign strategy that has allowed him to compete for primary votes, yet will also allow him to be competitive with independents in September. It makes the transition to the general election campaign that much smoother, and Romney that much more credible.

And let me say flatly that in reviewing Romney’s record, the GOP should not make perfect the enemy of the good. Romney’s flip-flops are there and they are real. He dealt with them in the debates – successfully – and he can carry that message into the general election.

But it is also worth pointing out that signing the biggest abortion rights bill in California history and raising taxes as governor, did not disqualify Ronald Reagan locking down conservative support for his presidential runs. Nor has his record of  raising certain taxes and granted amnesty to illegals tarnished his image among the faithful today.

Reagan got the big things right. And on the big issues, Romney has the policy prescriptions right, today.

More than any election in recent history, 2012 will be contested on a fundamental governing principle.

On issues such as unemployment and economic competitiveness, on the coming crisis in entitlements, on the massive expansion of government and the explosion of debt, in mapping out a strategy for energy independence and reforming health-care, what is the proper role of government?

The 2008 election was effectively the biggest political “bait and switch” in American history.

Reassuring moderation defined by empty bromides to unity and optimism, translated to a much darker and partisan reality once the President assumed office. The Obama experiment has been useful to the extent that it provided the American people with a window into the practical results of progressive governance, with government in the preeminent role as enabler, arbiter and court of last resort; an alternate reality from the images of candidate Obama on the hustlings.

Romney, in contrast to Obama ’08, has set out a detailed vision of limited government, free markets and individual liberty as the cornerstones of policies that will address the chronic problems of debt and runaway spending, while restoring economic health and economic growth.

It speaks to the extraordinary times in which we live that a wealthy businessman and Mormon  would be the counter-culture candidate to the governing Establishment.

Which brings us to the last point – staying power.

The unprecedented realignment of federal power that has been orchestrated by the Obama administration is, in itself, not enough to turn the President from office. Whatever the shortcomings of his policies, the President and his team are among the most formidable campaigners in modern history.

Efficient, effective and ruthless.

Turning an incumbent out of office, even one with President Obama’s record, is no easy feat. Obama will bring all the power of the presidency as well as his Party to bear on the GOP in November.

For that onslaught, Republicans will need a nominee capable of taking a punch and continuing to making a convincing argument and advancing a plan.

Mitt Romney is the only candidate who has shown the ability to do that.

Looking back over the past year, it is clear that debate is healthy. Strong passions translate into committed voters and clearer policy. The competition engendered in the process has made Mitt Romney a far better candidate today than he was in 2008, or even 2011.

But all the voices have been heard and the results are increasingly clear. The GOP needs to close ranks around the candidate who earned the nomination the hard way. The man who offers the best chance to defeat President Obama. Most importantly, the man who is committed to rolling back Obamanomics and who has articulated a coherent plan for fixing the problems that hobble our growth and opportunity.

That man is Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have been spirited candidates, authors of consequential messages, with a dedicated following. But it is time for them to fold their tents an integrate their script into the larger GOP narrative for the fall.

This is not about the fate of a candidate, but the fate of a country.

The GOP has slightly more then seven months to make its case to the American people, and every day the party squabbles internally is a precious day lost in making the indictment against failed Obama policies.

Mitt Romney for President.

Let’s saddle up and get down to business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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