Now that the election cycle is ramping into full campaign mode, I guess it's time for me to revive my rational views. A few observations on last night's Republican debate in Las Vegas:
Rick Perry is a gonner. If it weren't for his money machine and political connections, he wouldn't stand a chance. His cheap shot at Romney's immigration scandal (the inadvertent "hiring" of illegal immigrants employed by his lawn care service while Mitt was running for governor of MA), his indefensible "magnet" to illegals in the form of education subsidies, his weak-kneed "apology" for his campaign's slam on Romney's religion, and his misleading comparison of job creation statistics in Texas vs. Massachusetts made him look small and angry. While some pundits lauded his new "fire in the belly" he continues to lack appeal, fall far short of presidential, and will not rally voters.
Despite the folly of taking Perry's bait and allowing himself to be dragged into petty name-calling, Mitt Romney, overall, continues to improve his stance; in his articulation of issues, his strength and passion about the key conservative levers of economic revival, and therefore, his viability as a legitimate presidential contender. Romney will continue to solidify his base of support and gradually pull in more conservatives who will begin to trust the conviction behind his rhetoric and policy positions. While less charismatic than Herman Cain, and less principled than Ron Paul, Romney has a center conservative core and pragmatic understanding of government along with considerable capitalist chops that will continue to make him attractive to America's center-right. Not to mention his financial war chest. All this despite the "Mormon problem." Romney IS the man to beat and come Convention, most Republicans will feel fairly comfortable hanging their chad on an "electable" Mitt.
Herman Cain, I believe, has peaked. His 9-9-9 plan, while cleverly appealing at first glance, lacks the substance and clarity to attract voters, nor is it a practicable solution, as Newt Gingrich adroitly pointed out. While Cain is attractive from his "outsider" perch, he seems too far from the window to be an effective Chief of State. He fumbled badly both in defense of his plan (perhaps because it's simply indefensible in the current political climate) and in his command of affairs both foreign and domestic. He seemed relatively inarticulate and simplistic when discussing international affairs ranging from military to immigration policy. Cain is simply not ready for prime time and I, for one, lost confidence in his candidacy last night. He may evolve into a legitimate VP contender, however.
So much for the top tier contenders. One has to be completely dazzled by Ron Paul's consistent, frank and unflappable ability to articulate the Constitutionally principled approach to governance at the Federal level. "The federal government is pretty much incapable of doing anything right," he whinnied at one point, as the crowd burst into cheers. Paul GETS IT! If it were 1787 he'd be the man! Paul's view reflects, almost exactly, my vision of the perfect America. A nation where the general government exists to protect the people in the free exercise of their individual liberties and most of the social problem solving occurs at the state and local levels. Where markets and free enterprise are the engines of prosperity and the state has, at best, a minimal role in the financial welfare of the people. Paul's voice is perhaps the most important, articulate, and valuable on the American scene today because it jolts people (who listen) towards a more sound understanding of the principles on which the Republic stands and how they account for our remarkable success as a nation and incomparable contributions to humankind. In a word, FREEDOM. Sadly, however, we are so far removed from those fundamentals, that Paul is and will ever be considered fringe--and the re-implementation of those pure principles would unlikely be achieved under his leadership. He has never demonstrated great capacity to lead though his influence has doubtless proved a stumbling block for progressives. Paul is about 98% right but about 98% unelectable. And at this critical time, that may be a blessing as a more pragmatic transitional character may be needed to unite the nation.
That person, in my view, is Newt Gingrich. Gingrich consistently demonstrates the finer qualities of statesmanship. He is complimentary of his colleagues but draws clear, rational, principled distinctions between himself and his policies vs. other candidates and most especially, the presiding regime. He has a command of both domestic and foreign policy that is head and shoulders above any in the field, including the current Commander in Chief. Newt is an idea man who has articulated specific, pragmatic actions he could and would take as President that would immediately release the pent up potential in the American economic engine and kick it in gear. He's a principled pragmatist who knows how to get things done in Washington and has a proven track record of actually implementing conservative policies (the famous Contract with America) including welfare reform, balanced budgets, and job creation being cases in point--even while working with a Democrat Executive. Gingrich has an incomparable command of American history and policy and he would eviscerate Obama instantly in any debate. A Gingrich/Cain or Gingrich/Romney ticket could be VERY interesting. But Newt has the "Gingrich Problem." I don't know exactly what that is. Perhaps his scandalous affair and remarriage or maybe his million-dollar book deal. For whatever reason, Newt is perceived as unelectable, so perhaps he is.
The remaining two candidates, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann have a narrow appeal to the most socially conservative among us. Of the two, Bachmann seems more appealing although Santorum has a unique track record for defeating incumbent liberals while articulating "hard core" conservative views. Both are uncompromising but somewhat less consistent. They would both, it seems to me, use the power of government to "do the right thing" as they see it. Whether that means preventing abortion, drug use, or gay "marriage," or maintaining an American military presence around the globe--even where it's neither welcome nor essential for US security. They (not Mitt Romney) hold the moral "religous" high ground which is why they occupy the electoral low ground.
In fine, my man is Newt but my money's on Mitt. At least at this stage of the game.