If you were to determine your vote on the basis of content and delivery in the Monday night debate (Jan. 23) in Tampa, go with Rick Santorum.
He was calm, cogent, collected and clear and solid in his positions for free markets and freedom. He unmasked the on-and-off conservatism and belief in capitalism of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
Ron Paul, as always, was the only true constitutional conservative — and, as always, he made the most common sense. Federal government, Paul says: Leave us alone. Let the states and individuals rule. Right on, man!
Unfortunately, you just can’t get there with Paul. It’s difficult to envision Ron Paul as presidential, descending Marine One with a crisp, commander-in-chief salute. And this is petty, but he needs a tailor to keep his suit coat from looking like a bag around his neck. We want a president who stands like a general.
Mitt Romney, although looking strained at times Monday night, improved over the previous week. He went on the offense against Gingrich and demonstrated toughness. He needed that. He needs to work out more at the get-tough gym.
Newt Gingrich was convincing. In this regard: When he recited the long list of his involvement in the center of national and Republican politics since the 1970s — more than four decades — that was the clincher. He painted a picture for us of the insider career politician, one of the party’s Old Bulls. As always, he was eloquent. No one is better. But, sorry, that career resume was a reminder: Haven’t the career politicians in Congress driven us where we are? The baggage is huge.
For Republicans, selecting the right candidate from among these Four Horsemen shouldn’t come from a debate. It should come from a lot of things — character, philosophical principles, convictions, likability, charisma, track record, comportment, quickness, thoughtfulness, effectiveness, sense of humor, passion, ideas, vision, ability to instill confidence, leadership. Oh yeah, electability.
We’re also reminded of three characteristics of leadership preached by Denise Federer, Tampa psychologist and family-business coach: Consistency, predictability and accountability.
This is a tough decision for Florida Republicans. Many are looking for an epiphany before Tuesday’s primary.
In conversations with six Florida Republicans Monday night, for example, there was distress and ambivalence. “When you figure it out, let me know,” one of them told me.
Most principled of the four
Of all the characteristics listed above, Ron Paul has almost all of them. None of the four candidates has more steadfast, conservative convictions and principles than Paul. There is no unpredictability and no wavering from his belief in the U.S. Constitution as the absolute guide for those who wish to govern. His views of the economy and the role of government in the economy and in our lives should be a four-year requirement in every high school.
It would be extraordinary to see Paul’s agenda pushed up to Capitol Hill, to see Paul disrobe and expose all of the congressional looters who want to protect their power over our lives.
But it won’t happen. There is a shortage of the kind of charisma we crave in a president, and he’s quirky. Paul’s fatal flaw: electability. Too many brainwashed Americans think Libertarianism is a strain of leprosy and kookiness. (Those of us who embrace it, however, know it is the most logical, freedom-loving “ism” ever conceived.) Paul seems more suited where he is — to be a serious voice that constantly challenges and pricks the Washington elite.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum is close to Paul in possessing the vast majority of the right characteristics — character, likability, passion, quick on his feet, articulate, etc. He developed a strong, free-market voice as a part-time radio talk-show host, hosting the Bill Bennett in the Morning Show on Salem radio stations nationwide. And his stance to be proactive and strong against Islamic terrorism makes conservatives’ heads nod emphatically in agreement.
Make no mistake: Santorum is your standard, career politician. And his voting record is not exactly that of a conservative Ron Paul. While he may have signed recently Grover Norquist’s pledge not to increase taxes if elected president, Santorum’s voting record while in Congress and the Senate would make the Tea Party voters toss him to the Everglades alligators.
A sampling: He voted against a flat tax; twice for internet taxes; against repealing the Clinton 4.3-cent gas tax; to increase taxes $9.4 billion to pay for a $9.4 billion increase in student loans; for the Medicare Part B new entitlement; to mandate discounted broadcast advertising rates for politicians; for a $1 billion bailout of the steel industry; to give $18 billion to the IMF.
In short, while Santorum understands and preaches that our congressional spending habits must end, his historical actions don’t line up with his conservative words. As Redstate.com characterized him: “a big-government conservative.”
Think a little deeper: What accomplishments has Sen. Santorum achieved in his career that raises him above all of the other Republican candidates in overall qualifications? What executive and business experience does he have that makes him more qualified than, say, Gingrich or Romney?
Likable and solid, but not up to the level … yet.
Willing to do what it takes?
When former Gov. Mitt Romney visited Sarasota late last year for a luncheon, he served his audience standard, banal lunchfare — a plate of platitudes about creating jobs, cutting regulations and … well, the equivalent of a blob of mashed potatoes topped with cold gravy.
This is Romney’s curse. Mr. Bland. Republican voters (as well as everyone else) see him as a caricature of the stereotyped, ideal Republican whom common folk love to hate: rich, white, smart, successful, good looking, dull.
Republican voters keep waiting and hoping to see him rise, definitively, above his fellow contenders. Come on, Mitt, you have it all. You’re presidential. But be faster on your feet. Exude purpose and energy. Get off the stage and shake the troops’ hands with unabashed enthusiasm. Look them in the eye. Be tough … But don’t resort to the standard “go nuclear negative” that the consultants will push you to do.
This is what voters want to see. They know Romney has all of the right characteristics. Unlike the others, he especially has proven, as a businessman, entrepreneur, chairman of the Olympics and governor, that he has the leadership skills to motivate and steer an organization, that he has the qualities of predictability and consistency, a calm, steady hand that Americans want in a president at a time of crisis.
Republican voters can accept Romney’s middle-of-the-road conservatism (up to a point), because they know that is his “electability card” among the independents. But what they can’t accept is a gifted boxer who isn’t willing to do what it takes to win.
Investors Business Daily called him “a Churchillian Newt Gingrich.”
At the start of its Jan. 23 editorial, IBD’s editors said:
“Leadership: A great debater. Politically polarizing. Prone to great error, but also prone to spectacular success. Steeped in history. Politically brilliant. Unorthodox. Audacious.”
This is indeed Newt Gingrich. But the editorial quickly reminded readers that “all these qualities were once used to describe Winston Churchill.”
The parallels between the two are remarkable.
“Churchill, like Gingrich, was a brilliant politician with a powerful sense of the occasion,” IBD reported. And Churchill’s career, like Gingrich’s, careened between highs and lows. Among the lows (from a conservative’s perspective): Churchill was the father of the British welfare state. He spent a decade as a liberal before shifting to the right. He alienated the members of Britain’s conservative political party. “The Conservatives have never liked nor trusted me,” Churchill once admitted. His personal peccadillo was his predilection for adult beverages, morning, noon and night.
But along his protracted political career, he acquired wisdom. As IBD reported, the British people turned to him for leadership in 1940 at a time of crisis when he was 65, quite old at the time. The rest, of course, is history.
It’s easy to envision Newt Gingrich as our Churchill. Gingrich’s career has tracked Churchill’s ups and downs almost step for step. He is mesmerizing in front of a crowd — a volcano of ideas; steeped like no other in vivid historical detailsl; his eloquence a sword that shreds an opponent’s words into swatches of babble. This is the visionary and fighter Republican voters want on the stage with Barack Obama. And this is the fighter they want to wreak havoc on the Washington establishment.
It is so tempting. Give us a candidate who, if elected, will govern outside of the Washington margins. Gingrich did it before. Against odds in the late 1980s and 1990s, he built a coalition in Congress, created (with others) a Contract with America that swept voters and overthrew 40 years of congressional Democrats.
He knows what it takes.
Special trust, highest expectations
In the end, it comes down to character. We tell our children character matters. Honesty and truth. When U.S. Marine Col. Julian Alford addressed a graduating class of Marine officers last fall, he reminded them of their code by which they are to live: “You must remain ever vigilant against threats to your personal honor and integrity. Our Corps demands officers with moral and physical courage, able to do what is right, regardless of how unpopular a decision or action may be. You must each stand up and be counted in your words and deeds. Do not be mistaken that a Marine commission brings with it a ‘special trust and confidence’ and the highest expectations of the American people.”
That is exactly what Americans also want and expect in a president. They want steady, predictable and trustworthy character. Republicans want a candidate whose character is beyond reproach standing on stage next to Barack Obama so the focus can be entirely on qualifications, historical performance and a vision for America’s future.
If you subscribe to this description as the candidate who is electable, the conclusion is unavoidable: Mitt Romney.