I Voted For…….

…..Mitt Romney. It was a close call – I didn’t make up my mind until after getting in the car to head down to my polling place – but ultimately, one consideration outweighed the others: I want this primary over. I want conservatives and Republicans to stop fighting amongst themselves and start focusing on Barack Obama. The wounds from this fight run too deep, and what advantages Rick Santorum might have over Romney as the nominee aren’t, in my view, drastic enough to justify prolonging the struggle any longer. Defeating Obama is going to be tough enough; let’s cut the infighting and get to work on it.
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Mitt or Rick?

We’re now less than a week away from the Wisconsin Republican primary, and I’m still undecided. As it stands, this is more or less my current thought process: 
  • Romney & Santorum will probably be roughly equal on defense, abortion, taxes, marriage, judges, and immigration.
  • Romney will probably be somewhat better on spending/entitlements, though whether he’ll be aggressive enough remains questionable.
  • Santorum is right that he’d campaign much more effectively against ObamaCare (though I trust both to repeal it). ObamaCare and RomneyCare can be sufficiently distinguished to neutralize the issue for Mitt, but Romney himself needs to do it – and so far, he hasn’t.
  • Both candidates are gaffe-prone & have trouble refuting false narratives, though I’m unsure which will be a bigger liability: “Santorum as theocrat” or “Romney as corporate fatcat.” 
  • I fear Romney’s over-sensitivity to polls, but I also worry about Santorum’s “compassionate conservative” leanings.
I’m leaning towards Romney, but the great speech Santorum gave right here in Fond du Lac over the weekend – in which he showed undeniable passion and command of the issues, and made a strong case against Romney’s ability to campaign against ObamaCare – have stuck with me. Maybe in the next few days, one of them will do something magnificent – or idiotic – enough to make the choice clearer.

Hopefully the former. But I’ll take the latter at this point, too.

Rick Santorum for President

In August, I wrote that I considered Rick Santorum the best potential president in the Republican field, but that his campaign just didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I endorsed Michele Bachmann, who was just as conservative, a fighter, and (implausible as it seems now) had real traction. As Bachmann’s chronic foot-in-mouth disease proved terminal, I withdrew my support for her, but declined to pick someone else. I flirted with the idea of a conscience vote for Santorum in the Wisconsin primary, but overall had resigned myself to the likelihood that I’d end up voting for Mitt Romney again (who, for the record, I still prefer to Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry).
Well, I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong. Santorum surpassed expectations in Iowa this week, winning just eight votes fewer than Romney with far less money. And while an Iowa win is hardly determinative of how the rest of the campaign will pan out, and Santorum will certainly face an uphill battle, it was important for two reasons: it proved that his campaign organization is the real deal, and it forced lots of people to really look at Santorum for the first time. And this is what they saw:

An articulate, likeable figure who oozes confidence and conviction, and who displays a deep understanding of the challenges facing America and concrete ideas about how to solve them. A full-spectrum conservative with a record of credibility and leadership on economics, foreign policy, and social issues. A man who has lived his public convictions in his private life. A man of deep faith who isn’t afraid to oppose his faith’s leaders when they’re wrong. And a man whose record of success is better than you may have heard.
A perfect candidate? Not at all. But his mistakes are forgivable, and they pale in comparison to those of his competitors.
Santorum will still face a tough fight for the nomination, but hardly an unwinnable one. His team is efficient and effective. Rasmussen already has him in second place nationally. His newfound attention and momentum could very well translate to the financial boost he needs to compete on a larger scale. He’ll have talk radio giants like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Glenn Beck boosting him far earlier than the Right’s talkers took sides in the race last time around. Gingrich probably won’t be making many new friends. A Perry rebound is possible, but I doubt it. Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman aren’t even worth mentioning. I just don’t see where else those desperately seeking a more conservative candidate than Romney would logically go.
As for the general election, Santorum actually has arguably the best chance to defeat Barack Obama. His case against the incumbent will be bold and eloquent. The above video demonstrates his ability to naturally connect with working-class voters. No sex or corruption scandals will be dug up. All three legs of the conservative stool will be energized. The Left will deploy grotesque caricatures of Santorum’s moral views, but as long as his campaign refutes them promptly, visibly, and succinctly, they won’t work – being pro-life is a net political gain, and while things could change, it’s not for nothing that Obama still can’t bring himself to embrace gay marriage.
Ladies and gentlemen of the conservative movement, it’s been a long, frustrating, demoralizing haul, but there’s no need for pessimism anymore. We finally have our standard-bearer, and Barack Obama has met his match. Vote Rick Santorum for President.

GOP Debate Reaction

The following rankings are based strictly on their performance last night, not their overall merit as candidates.

First Place: A tie between Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. I was surprised to see Bachmann at all, simply because she hadn’t made her intentions to run official before last night, and I didn’t expect to be as impressed with her performance as I was (I’ve always liked her passion for conservatism, but she has had a few foot-in-mouth issues). Bachmann was clear, polished, passionate, and generally delivered a performance that stood in stark contrast to the Left’s caricature of her as an unserious nut. Gingrich, unsurprisingly, delivered a performance that showcased his unmatched command of the details and a no-nonsense attitude that I think would have taken him far if…well, if he wasn’t Newt Gingrich, weighed down by all the baggage that entails.

Second Place: Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Solid performances, but more or less interchangeable in my view. Romney may have been a little more polished, though he’s lucky nobody forced him to get too specific about health care. Speaking of which…

Third Place: Tim Pawlenty. He would have been in a tree-way tie for second with Santorum and Romney, were it not for chickening out when given a chance to back up his attacks on RomneyCare. Tim does realize that, if he wins the nomination, he’ll have to say uncomplimentary things about Obama to his face, right?

Fourth Place: Herman Cain. I never expected to be as disappointed as I’ve been in Cain. Despite being able to speak with great confidence and clarity on economics, it’s clear he hasn’t made any effort to improve his foreign policy credentials. He also stumbled badly when trying to explain his remarks on the loyalty of Muslims, and I was disappointed to learn he wouldn’t support the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Fifth Place: Ron Paul. His delivery is so terrible that I can’t fathom how this guy managed to develop a cult of personality around himself. He comes across as the crazy uncle you’re constantly praying won’t embarrass you in front of dinner guests.

New on NewsReal – What Donald Trump’s Popularity Means for the Rest of the 2012 Field

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Before I sat down to write this article, I pinched myself just to make sure I was awake and today’s subject wasn’t some weird dream. But alas, talking heads on both sides of the political spectrum really are seriously entertaining the possibility of President Donald Trump.

At the Daily Beast, Jim DeFede reports on why several Florida Tea Partiers have said they’re backing the Donald:

“We need a real businessman,” said Linda Kogelman, 63, a retired postal worker. “The lawyers don’t know how to run the country. They bow down to too many people.” Kogelman said no one else in the Republican field excites her.

“There is no one there,” she continued. “Romney is old hat. Newt is old hat. It’s just the same old same old. We need new blood.”

Her husband, Ken, 64, who closed his crane business in 2009 because of the downturn in the economy, nodded in agreement.

“They’ve destroyed this country,” he spit. Who?

“The Democrats.”

Standing nearby, 78-year-old Richard Walters was holding on to a letter he had written. He was hoping to be able to hand it to Trump.

“I used to be the Rolls Royce dealer in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach,” said Walters, who is now retired. “And he was one of my customers.”

Fond memories of The Donald?

“I didn’t like him,” Walters said. “He was an arrogant bastard. But I love him now. He is the only person in this country who can right the ship.”

Lest you think DeFede has cherry-picked some outliers to exaggerate Trump’s popularity, note that The Donald has some formidable poll numbers in the Republican primary field (he fares worse, however, in general election match-ups). Among the conservative punditocracy, the reaction is more mixed—Sean Hannity has been giving Trump substantial interview time, while Mark Levin has been intensely critical, and with good reason—Trump has flip-flopped on abortion, healthcare, and his party affiliation, used to be far more favorable to Barack Obama (calling George W. Bush “evil” in the process), and has donated substantially to Democrats.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

The Trump Factor

His naked transformation into a full-spectrum right-winger, sudden professions of religiosity, and weird dive into the fever swamps of Birtherism definitely seem to indicate that Donald Trump’s serious about seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Some are tempted to dismiss him as another Ross Perot, but I think John Ziegler hits the nail on the head as to why his candidacy is resonating with conservative voters:

Trump is now in a position where he could be extremely dangerous. Conservatives are aching for someone with the gonads to take it to Obama and really shake things up in Washington if he happens to win. Many are so fed up that they are willing to jump on almost any bandwagon that even appears to be headed in that direction, even if the driver, like Trump, is totally unreliable.

Despite all the substantive reasons Trump shouldn’t be the nominee, he’s gaining traction because he’s got the presentation – gutsy, bold, aggressive – that the right kind of nominee should have, which puts the rest of the mostly-milquetoast field to shame. Conservatives know that we’re in perilous times, and they’re looking for a leader who seems to get the stakes and doesn’t care whether or not the bad guys say mean things about his tone.
 
If the rest of the nominees are smart, they’ll take notice, and draw the right lesson. But I’m not holding my breath.