In the 2008 Republican primary, it was pretty easy for to pick a candidate early on: I endorsed and vigorously supported Mitt Romney. I reasoned at the time that, aside from his formidable private-sector experience and squeaky-clean personal life, he best unified the social, fiscal, and defense wings of conservatism, and though there were a couple flip-flops in his record, the baggage and positions of his competitors were easily worse. I stand by that decision.
This time around, though, the decision has been more difficult, essentially because the candidates seem more evenly mediocre. Romney looks worse (for reasons we’ll get into below), there are no extreme babykillers among the viable candidates who need to be derailed, and overall there’s just nobody whose assets aren’t marred by substantial drawbacks of one form or another.
But recently, enough has come into focus that I feel comfortable making concrete pronouncements about the major active, official candidates, including an endorsement. So here’s an alphabetical rundown of my take on each candidate, with my endorsement at the end.
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann strikes all the right notes on the Constitution, life, marriage, economics, and defense, she’s got the passion to convince people of her sincerity and her ability to mount a tough challenge to Obama, and she couldn’t care less about whether or not her remarks or positions are expedient or establishment-approved. On the other hand, she’s sometimes a clumsy communicator, and has had a string of minor gaffes and blunders (not reading that Iowa pledge more closely is the most recent example). Ultimately, I’d be more than comfortable voting for Bachmann over Obama.
Herman Cain: I like Herman Cain the man, but I just can’t warm up to Herman Cain the would-be president. He’s generally solid on the issues and a great businessman, but his campaign seems to be something of a one-trick pony, with little more to offer than generic rhetoric about being an outsider and a problem solver, which simply isn’t enough to paper over the sense that he’s utterly unprepared when discussing foreign policy, which is kind of a big deal for a potential commander in chief. Of course, I’d happily vote for him in the general election, since our current president is far more incompetent…he just hides it better.
Newt Gingrich: Newt is frustrating. He’s extremely intelligent, a superb speaker and debater, has lots of terrific ideas, and is second to none in his ability to convey the gravity of a situation. But he’s also got a scandal-ridden personal life, a laundry list of foolish flirtations with liberals, and a horribly managed campaign. I’d still vote for Gingrich in the general, since I think most of his values are basically in the right place (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t love to see Barack Obama forced to debate this guy for an hour on stage?).
John Huntsman: Huntsman is a flake, a moderate-to-liberal Republican, and a phony. I wouldn’t vote for him in the general, which is good because he’s not getting the nomination. Next.
Gary Johnson: He’s like Ron Paul, only worse. He’s going nowhere, and under no circumstances would I vote for him. Next.
Ron Paul: I’ve written extensively about why Ron Paul’s treason, demagoguery, conspiracism, and dishonesty disqualify him from serious consideration, so I don’t think I need to repeat myself too much there. (Oh, and while I’ve admitted before that Paul’s got a solid record on abortion, pro-lifers should be aware that he says the only other candidate he’d support is Gary Johnson, the one pro-abort in the field this time around.) And did you know he’s drifting leftward on immigration? In the unlikely event that the GOP would be so irresponsible as to nominate Paul, I could not in good conscience vote for him, even in a general election against Obama.
Rick Perry: There seems to be a general sense that Perry’s the new favorite for Republican nomination, thanks to a combination of his job-creation record and the perception that he’s the True Conservative TM of the race. And that scares me for three reasons. First, his record on immigration is horrendous. Second, his recent calls to leave gay marriage and abortion to the states are troubling, even if he did flip-flop on both lickety-split. Third, how can you have faith in the liberty, limited-government principles of a guy who issued an executive order mandating that little girls be vaccinated with an unproven anti-STD drug? It’s vitally important that we get Obama out of office, and I’m willing to put up with a lot of bull for the greater good, so I’d vote for Perry in the general if it came to that…but I would do so reluctantly, and with very restrained expectations about his presidency.
Mitt Romney: After Romney dropped out last time, I said that if he put the effort into immersing himself in the movement and taking the lead on the issues, and if he stuck with it between 2008 and 2012, the nomination would be his for the taking. Well, that hasn’t happened. At best, we got the occasional okay-yet-unremarkable op-ed or sound byte. It’s bad enough that Romney hasn’t distinguished himself, but since then ObamaCare has reignited scrutiny over the healthcare plan he championed in Massachusetts, to the point where Democrats are giving him backhanded “thanks” for it. So the doubts about Mitt’s conservatism are bigger than ever, and he’s chosen to circle the wagons around RomneyCare rather than add another flip-flop to the list. Mitt Romney’s drawbacks are even more pronounced this time around, and he brings nothing special to the table that would offset them. That said, I would vote for Romney in the general election—he still embraces (albeit imperfectly) all three legs of the conservative stool, I believe him when he says he wouldn’t replicate RomneyCare at the federal level, and I think he’s got strong potential to threaten Obama on the economy.
Rick Santorum: Santorum is a strong fiscal conservative, a strong defense hawk, and arguably the premiere social conservative lawmaker of the past 20 years. He’s a veteran of the conservative movement, an experienced senator, and a courageous, unapologetic advocate of conservative principles. On paper, it seems like a no-brainer that he should be the Republican nominee. The problem is, he just can’t seem to gain any traction, which I believe is due to a combination of growing antipathy toward social conservatives among establishment Republicans and Santorum’s inability to make his message resonate with voters. I’d love to vote for him in the general…but sadly, I don’t think I’ll get the opportunity.
Conclusion: If it were strictly a question of who I think would make the best president, I would back Rick Santorum. But unless he manages to grain some real traction, I don’t see him as a viable option, and I think Perry’s got the potential to fool enough people that we need a viable, trustworthy, conservative alternative. To that end, I am endorsing Michele Bachmann for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. She’s a little rough around the edges, but in the final analysis I believe she’s got the principles, the know-how, and the fire to take on Barack Obama and set America back on track.