Today's the day Michigan votes in the Presidential primary, and for once, it matters a lot.
I'm not under any illusions about the field--it's not the A team, it's the B- team. But each of the candidates has one great virtue: at least they decided to show up. That counts for something, even for the ones I don't like all that much.
I won't pretend that Senator Santorum was my first choice. I've always liked him, especially up close and personal. But I was looking for a candidate with solid executive experience, and he didn't have it. Never the less, the Pawlenty "Brave Sir Robin" act and Rick Perry's inexplicable flameout took those options off the table.
I still think Santorum needs to develop the discipline to steer away from hot-button trap questions he really wants to answer, but at least you know what's on his mind.
As an aside, for those wetting themselves over fears of "theocracy": (1) not going to happen. (2) If you're worried about how a President is going to behave in office, then perhaps the problem is with the over-assumption of executive power--the office itself--and not the particular occupant. "It's OK when my guy wields it" is not how it is envisioned to operate.
Back to the Senator: yes, he's got pork and massive entitlement (Medicare Part D) issues, but he also is someone who can take the credit for ending a lifetime entitlement with welfare reform. He also has a vision supportive of more limited government, with support for a civil society with its "mediating institutions." He has also shown the ability to win over voters in a purple-blue state, which says something for his campaigning skills. He's aware that America is faced with people in the world who wish her ill, and he feels the HHS assault in his guts. There will be no backdown on that. No, he's not a perfect candidate (I'd like him softer on certain issues like immigration, for a start), but I'm surprised by how well he laps the field.
Speaking of which.
Newt Gingrich. I actually like big vision-thing ideas, inspiring, reach for the sky plans. But he invariably couples them with not-so-good ideas suggestive of spitballing (local boards handling immigration?). He's actually better than the rest of the field on immigration in general, but oddball ideas combined with an inability to parry negative attacks make him unelectable. And, yes, Santorum has a deficit with women voters generally, but a thrice-married politico is toxic with that rather important segment. He blew it after South Carolina, and hasn't been a threat since.
Ron Paul. I'm not going to call him nuts or anything like that. My problem is less with the candidate (though he is a greatly flawed politician), but rather with his fan base. There are serious Paul supporters who admit to the problems with his ideas or practices. I have no beef with them. But the ones who treat his every word and deed like secular ahadith do him and his movement no favors. These are the ones who proliferate on the 'net. Look, he's a patriot, a genuinely good community servant with his medical practice and an unimpeachable family man. In a general sense, he is absolutely right about the constitutional imbalance of our current system and the monstrosity of federal spending and deficits.
But his more fanatical supporters refuse to admit he's a politician. Earmarking? "Why, its the Constitutional way to protect the taxpayer!" Alliance with Romney, the figure who should, on principles alone, receive his greatest ire? "What alliance?" Paul rolled over and played dead in Maine, despite profound irregularities and the consistent knock that he can't win--because Romney would lose. "What alliance?" "Santorum's the fake!" Despite the fact he actually succeeded with entitlement reform? Sigh.
He's helped his constituents in his sixteen years in office and has been able to use the office as a platform for a newsletter writ large. Which brings me to my final problem--he has no executive skills in a crunch.
I believe him when he says he didn't write the race-baiting nonsense in the newsletters. But if I credit his claim that he did not know who wrote that bilge, then he is to executive leadership what Stephen Hawking is to mixed-martial arts: out of his depth.
Finally, Mitt. What can be said about Governor Romney? My friend Jay Anderson has plenty of thoughts, none of them good. Here's the positive: he, too, is a good family man, a solid supporter of his church, and to his friends an absolute rock. I think his business experience is a plus, but not the plus it is claimed, otherwise why not nominate Warren Buffett? Finally, I think he's basically of center-to-slightly-rightish instincts, but they have been ruined by his sail-trimming to fit Massachusetts politics.
No, the main problem with Romney is that he neutralizes three essential issues in this race: (1) the health care legislation, (2) energy production (he signed cap and trade as governor), and (3) the HHS mandate (he ordered Catholic hospitals to provide abortifacients). Yet, there's every chance he's going to be the nominee? So, it will be a summer and autumn filled with special pleading, hand-waving, and fielding the "he was for it before he was against it, eh?" counterattacks. Yeah, that's a recipe for victory.
I'm looking for a choice, not an echo. Santorum for President.