GOP Primary: a surfeit of talent

Dateline 30 January 2008

While the Democrats have the weakest field of any party, possibly ever, the Republicans’ biggest problem is a surfeit of talent. Rudy Giuliani is the outstanding leader of his generation. Mitt Romney is an expert in turning around failing organizations: in business, government and the voluntary sector. John McCain has served longer in the Senate than the Democrats’ frontrunners combined, and has a record of getting legislation passed – something curiously absent among the Democrats.

Among the minor contenders, Mike Huckabee was a governor for more than a decade and even Fred Thompson – now withdrawn, and with the thinnest résumé on the GOP side – served longer in the Senate than Clinton, Edwards or Obama. It is difficult to think of any time since (at least) the Republican race of 1980 (governors of California and Texas and someone with three cabinet level portfolios) when either party has had a field this strong.

McCain has real achievements in the Senate. He has a proven ability to build bridges across the aisle and a willingness to confront pork and corruption. Unlike most Senators, he has actual leadership experience from his period of military command, and his bravery and patriotism are beyond reproach. Common Sense cannot say the same for his judgment. In the issues on which he has chosen to lead, he has often been misguided.

Huckabee’s weaknesses in office were legion. He is soft on national security, trade and crime. He is addicted to the nanny-state and will tax to support his addiction.

That leaves two candidates, either of whom would serve with immense distinction.

Mitt Romney made a career of taking over failing businesses and turning them around. He did the same to the Salt Lake City Olympics. He inherited a mess as governor of Massachusetts and, through mostly good judgments, left his state much stronger. He would make a fine president.

Rudy Giuliani was an inspiration to mayors all over the world long before 9/11. He cleaned the streets, cut taxes and defeated crime. From London to Sydney via Rome, New Dehli and Hong Kong, every city wanted its own Giuliani.

To test his candidacy, ask yourself and your friends this question: if you believed that America would face a problem as complex and intractable as New York City’s endemic crime, whom would you want to see confronting it? For decades, everyone believed New York’s crime could only go up. Or this question: if you believed the next President would face a crisis as severe and as testing as 9/11, whom would you want as your leader? The answers to these questions are easy.

Yet America will face problems as tough and as long in the making as New York’s crime rate. The War on Terror is such an issue. So is the coming entitlements crunch. Another 9/11 is by no means certain, but it is extremely possible. While neither McCain nor Romney would disgrace America in these circumstances, neither would inspire and reassure the world the way Giuliani would.

The trouble is, it is by no means clear that Giuliani will even be a candidate when New York state votes on 05 February. If he loses the Florida primary (held after LCW goes to press) he has no serious chance of winning the Republican nomination.

So, this column’s endorsement is conditional. If Giuliani wins Florida, vote Giuliani. If McCain or Romney wins Florida, vote Romney.

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