Let’s be clear about this from the start: On Tuesday, I’ll vote for Newt Gingrich to be the GOP’s presidential nominee.
Now for the explanation.
In recent days, I mentally drafted one piece endorsing him, one backing Mitt Romney, and a third picking Rick Santorum. (Sorry, Ron Paul fans.) In other words, like millions of other Americans, I’ve had a hard time reaching a decision. Then I realized part of my problem was my approach.
As the primary dragged on, I began to buy the idea of picking the least flawed man in the race. Or, put another way, avoiding the most flawed one. But that thinking is bunk, because no candidate is perfect — and the most flawed one in the race is the incumbent.
Of the five men still running, only Barack Obama has a record as president. Americans who are not Democrats rate this record, by healthy margins in various opinion polls, on a scale ranging from dissatisfaction to hostility.
Even if Obama were more popular, or even if his support were to solidify before November, running the “safe” candidate is not actually safe. Recall the track record of such candidates: John McCain, John Kerry, Bob Dole — and that’s just during my 16 years as a voter.
In any case, none of the remaining Republicans will make it through November without being branded by sound bites that are taken out of context, derived from misleading questions or over-hyped.
There is, however, a difference between fearing a narrative and recognizing a candidate’s inability to write his own story. Which brings me first to Romney.
His executive experience is a big plus. Since 1912, 17 presidents have run for another term. Governors (or former ones) have beaten them five times and lost five times; other challengers are 0-7. It seems Americans like executive experience, and Romney is the only GOP contender who has it.
Yet, time and again, I’ve been disappointed by Romney’s answers to attacks on his wealth and his business experience. These answers not only let the left define him. Given that his time in business is the asset he touts most, they reflect a lack of clarity about where he’d lead the nation. He’s risen by bringing down opponents, chiefly by outspending them. He won’t outspend Obama the same way.
Worst, his health care reform in Massachusetts is the biggest liability of any GOP candidate. It makes Obama’s record look less bad. That matters.
Gingrich has a record of changing Washington. Completely? No. But then, completely changing Washington is a big job. And Gingrich led Congress to each success to which Santorum can also lay a claim: balanced budgets and welfare reform, to name two. Just as important, unlike Santorum, he was not there for the excesses of the GOP-run Congress during the 2000s.
Gingrich also matches Santorum’s ability to convey his beliefs — conservative beliefs — unapologetically. But his way is more happy warrior than disappointed dad. That matters.
Of the remaining candidates, he has the best tax plans and is the most specific about addressing runaway regulation and bureaucracy and developing our energy resources. Is $2.50-a-gallon gas realistic? Maybe not. But it is aspirational in a way that demonstrates his commitment to the issue. Again, that matters.
Is he flawed? Yes, as are his rivals. But the most flawed candidate is the one now taking the country in the wrong direction, Obama. And the candidate who is clearest and most effective at offering a different direction is Newt Gingrich. He gets my vote.
– By Kyle Wingfield