My Quandary

I’ve traveled a circuitous route to get to the place where I am today in deciding whom to support in the Republican primary. I began with an interest in Bachmann, but soon concluded she didn’t have the experience for the job. I then turned to Perry for a brief while, hoping he would be the political “savior,” but that soured for me pretty quickly, particularly after a few debates. Herman Cain came on my personal radar after I was his table companion at a Republican event. I liked his attempt to get us to a fair tax. When he imploded over what I still think may have been false accusations, I toyed for a while with the idea that Gingrich could be the man. But then I took a fresh look at Santorum and came away impressed with his foundational understanding of principles of government and society based on a Christian worldview. That’s where I am today, and next Tuesday, I will cast my vote for him in Florida’s Republican primary.

Some may ask why I cannot go for Ron Paul, since he mirrors my constant calls for a return to constitutionalism. The reasons are many, but they boil down to two: his doctrinaire libertarianism and his foreign policy. Paul would have no problem with a state allowing abortion and same-sex marriage; I want an amendment to the Constitution protecting innocent human life and one clearly defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Those are God’s standards for society, and I argue they should be national in scope. On foreign policy, he really doesn’t grasp the threat of Islamic radicalism. I don’t believe we would be safe on his watch.

That leaves the two frontrunners, Romney and Gingrich. What’s my beef with them? Let me be as specific as I can for each one.

Romney

  • A new book, Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics, written by a fellow Mormon, tells how Romney followed the advice of a pollster who said he could never win elective office in Massachusetts as a pro-life candidate. So he abruptly switched to pro-choice in his run for the Senate against Ted Kennedy. Both in that race and in the later gubernatorial race, he did his best to go to the left of his Democrat opponent. There is a viral video making the rounds of Romney pledging to uphold Roe v. Wade and a woman’s “right to choose.” Another video shows him saying that a minor seeking an abortion without her parents’ consent can go to the courts to get permission. It’s not that he has made a conversion to pro-life; in fact, he started out that way and changed to pro-choice for purely political reasons. Now he’s pro-life again, and I believe the reason is once again political.
  • When the Massachusetts Supreme Court simply declared it was irrational not to allow same-sex marriage and told the legislature it needed to rectify the situation, Romney didn’t even wait to see what the legislature would do but took the lead in personally granting 189 marriage certificates to same-sex couples. He didn’t have to do that. It wasn’t mandated. So now when he says he’s opposed to same-sex marriage, why should we trust him?
  • He still has the albatross of Romneycare hanging on him. Only Santorum has had the courage to take him head-on on this issue. His plan was a precursor for Obamacare. It has the identical individual mandate. It rests on the same philosophy. As I’ve said before, how can he credibly attack Obamacare when he refuses to acknowledge the wrongness of his own plan? And just in the past few days, comments from one of his advisers indicate he really doesn’t expect to repeal the entire Obamacare monstrosity after all, no matter what he has promised on the campaign trail. Can he really be trusted to keep his word?

Gingrich

  • While he can talk a good talk, I have serious doubts that he is willing to walk his talk. Why? The many reports about how he carried out his speakership in the 1990s—from those who were with him in Congress—gives one pause. Testimony from reputable legislators such as Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Santorum himself paint a picture of a man with an outsized ego who was more than willing to break the pledges in the Contract with America for political gain.
  • He lost the confidence of his fellow Republicans in the House, and thereby lost his speakership. He resigned from the post [and from Congress itself] when he realized he wouldn’t be reelected their leader.
  • Like Romney, Gingrich supported the individual mandate in healthcare, advocated policies to fight man-made global warming [when its existence is doubtful], and toyed with cap-and-trade legislation. And, like Romney, he supported the TARP bailout.
  • His tactics in attacking Romney have come from the Left, using the same arguments Obama will undoubtedly use about greed, “vulture” capitalism, and now even accusing Romney of being anti-immigration. These smack of political opportunism and deliberate misrepresentation. Of course, Romney is not innocent on this point either.
  • His moral failings are an open book. Yes, I believe in redemption. I hope he has experienced it. But it becomes difficult to defend a man and promote him for the highest office in the land when he has that kind of background.
  • He is a superb speaker, but also one who may doom himself one day with his unrestrained commentary. As Santorum noted, do we want a nominee who may embarrass himself and the entire party with his loose tongue?

This is my quandary: what to do if Santorum cannot win—and his chances are slim at this point. I will have no option but to vote for whoever wins this race because Obama is far worse than either Romney or Gingrich, and his party stands for ideas repugnant to a Biblical worldview.

Some Republicans are hoping for a stalemated primary season where no one receives the majority needed to clinch the nomination. That would mean the convention would later make the choice. While this would be a potential problem for party unity and might project to the electorate an image of a party in disarray, it could be worth it in the end. If a brokered convention can provide a nominee with a minimum of baggage and an ability to communicate the conservative message effectively, we will all be better off. It worked in 1880 when James Garfield got the nod and won the general election. Could it work again?

South Carolina’s Results–Some Thoughts

It’s now two days since the South Carolina primary. The commentators have commentated, and I’ve listened to and read a number of them as I attempt to come to my own conclusions regarding the outcome. Here are my various thoughts, in no particular prearranged order.

I heard only one of the speeches that evening—Newt Gingrich’s. He was appropriately humble and visionary. He showed magnanimity toward the other contenders. If all I knew about him was that one speech, I would be an avid supporter. But the questions remain. Even if I give him all the benefit of the doubt, and accept his moral turnaround as genuine, there’s still other baggage [there’s that word again that refuses to leave peacefully].

Fox senior analyst Brit Hume darkly warned that a Gingrich nomination would be unacceptable to many of his former congressional colleagues. He predicted a silent revolt—some openly avoiding appearing with him during the campaign—fearful they might lose their reelection bids if they get too close. I don’t know how accurate that prediction is, but it does arrest one’s budding enthusiasm.

And as Santorum noted during the final SC debate, do we really want to nominate someone whose next utterance may cause a firestorm? Can Newt be trusted to rein in his rhetoric when necessary? Right now, it’s working for him as he takes the media to task for its hypocrisy. Will that approach work in the general election if he is the nominee, or will it sink the Republican ship? I, for one, love to see a politician calling out the media for what it is: a shill for Obama’s reelection. But would Newt find the proper balance between critique and casting a hopeful vision for the future of the country? He did so on Saturday. That’s a start.

I have to admit I hope SC is the beginning of the end for the Romney candidacy. While I think he’s a decent person, I don’t believe he has what it takes to tackle the Democrat smear machine. He can’t even hold his own against friendlier opponents. His drastic drop in SC in such a short period of time doesn’t bode well for his staying power. When you add those concerns to the ones I’ve had all along, there’s no way I could exert any energy on behalf of nominee Romney.

I didn’t see Santorum’s speech, but the commentators I read generally said it was one of his best, if not the best, of the campaign season. They said it had genuine substance. He seems to have gained greater respect over time. Most see him as a principled conservative and not a political opportunist who sways in the policy winds. The issue now, of course, is whether he can replicate his Iowa win anywhere else. Or is Gingrich now on such a roll that he will sweep all before him? I continue to believe that would be a shame. Santorum, to me, is the most honorable of the potential nominees, and deserves better from the Republican electorate.

The contenders are now in Florida. I’m already planning to go to one event where Santorum will be present, and perhaps others may appear there as well. It’s only about a mile from my house, so it will be quite convenient. While I know Santorum’s chances are not great at this point, I believe one must vote according to conscience. Unless there is a revolution in my thinking over the next week, I will happily cast my vote for him on January 31.

When all is said and done [as the cliché goes], I must trust God to take the republic under His wings and do what He can with the material He has to work with. One thing I firmly believe: a second term for Barack Obama will result in a further decline in the moral and social capital of the nation. Regime change is essential.

Choose a Standard-Bearer Who Has Integrity . . . Please

So much happened in the campaigns yesterday that I’m postponing more commentary on Santorum’s book for one day. Part of what happened, of course, deals with Santorum. Iowa had to reverse itself on who won the caucuses. It seems that Santorum is the winner by 35 votes. There remains confusion about some uncounted precincts, but apparently they won’t be included. This means Romney is not on the roll he and the media had proclaimed he was.

All you ever heard was that Romney, after winning Iowa and New Hampshire, was the inevitable nominee. This changes that scenario. Some may say that it’s only 35 votes, so it’s no big deal that Santorum won. Well, Romney’s “win” was a mere eight votes. Which is better? What’s fascinating is that the Romney people decided to call Iowa a tie. That’s not the rhetoric they used when they thought they had a victory there. Santorum isn’t having any of that—he has declared victory, a fact finally acknowledged by Romney later in the day and announced at the CNN debate last night. So it’s recognized as official.

What will this do for Santorum in South Carolina? That remains to be seen. But another factor in his favor that may raise his vote total is his performance at the debate. He was strong; much better than the last time. In fact, commentators on the National Review and Townhall websites gave the win to Santorum in the debate, which is the first time they’ve ever done that. Now, will that double bit of good news, along with some high-profile evangelical endorsements [the 150 leaders who met in Houston last weekend; Gary Bauer; James Dobson] help his cause? The latest polls show him lagging. The voting is Saturday, so there’s not much time to make up the ground. Yet, all in all, yesterday was a great day for Santorum.

It wasn’t so great for Perry and Gingrich, though. Perry held a news conference and dropped his bid for the White House. He finally bowed to reality. The unfortunate part of his departure for me, however, was his endorsement of Gingrich. As a sincere Christian, I hoped Perry would put his weight behind Santorum. But a poll of his supporters shows that they are about evenly divided as to whom they will support—22% Romney, 20% Gingrich and Santorum, so I’m not sure Perry’s endorsement meant a lot.

That was probably the only good news for Gingrich yesterday. His past has come back to haunt him again. His ex-wife taped an interview with ABC’s Nightline that highlighted his hypocrisy and venality in their relationship. How much can one believe from an ex-wife who was embittered by the way a marriage ended? I’m not sure, but it throws the limelight on Gingrich’s character once more. She says he approached her with the grand idea of an “open” marriage, in which he would be free to have a mistress on the side. She says she rejected that outrageous request.

The debate opened with CNN moderator John King asking Gingrich about it. Gingrich responded by lecturing King about the propriety of having such questions be part of a presidential debate. He was so indignant in his response that he got the crowd on his side, leading to a standing ovation. He then denied the account his ex-wife gave. While one part of me rejoices to see the mainstream media taken to the cleaners like that—and Gingrich is especially good at doing it—I would not have been part of the standing ovation if I had been there. Why?

I just don’t trust Gingrich’s integrity. I’ve stated before that I believe in forgiveness of sins if there is a genuine repentance before God. Gingrich says he has done that, but as I watch him, I get the uneasy feeling that he’s not being strictly truthful about it. I don’t want to disbelieve him, but there’s just so much in his background—what everyone refers to as his “baggage”—that’s it’s difficult to put it all behind.

I also look ahead to the general election. It would be hard for me to be enthused about a Gingrich candidacy when I have so many nagging, unanswered questions about the man. And you can be sure Obama’s people will take out extremely long knives, many of which will slice deeply. No matter how skilled a debater Gingrich might be, his ability to rally the nation to his side is a long shot.

As a Christian, I want to vote for someone who has undoubted integrity. Even if I might have some disagreements with the candidate on specific means for carrying out his agenda, I at least want to be confident that his heart is for God and for serving the people. At this point, the only one who inspires that kind of confidence in me is Rick Santorum. I seek to vote for someone, not just against Obama.

What will Saturday hold? South Carolina, you gave us John McCain last time. When he won that primary, it was the turning point of the campaign. How did that work out? It’s time to rectify that mistake. Instead of going for another moderate [Romney] or someone who raises more questions about his past and what he will do in the future [Gingrich], how about elevating one who is solid and steady, someone who will carry the banner with honor? I hope the Republican voters in South Carolina will give Santorum the chance to be that standard-bearer.

Principles & the Presidential Race

I’m very disappointed in Newt Gingrich. I was looking seriously at his candidacy for a while. I respect his intellect, and I was giving the benefit of the doubt that he may have changed from earlier years. I am not a supporter of Mitt Romney, as regular readers of this blog can attest. Yet the attack Newt has delivered on Romney’s years as a venture capitalist smacks of pure opportunism. He knows full well that a venture capitalist takes over failing companies to try to turn them around, and that in the process some people lose jobs. If he is successful, in the long run, more people gain employment. Newt knows this. But apparently, out of desperation and desire to hit back at some equally unfair accusations against him by Romney supporters, he has decided to sound like a Wall Street Occupier. He may deny that is what he’s doing, but I think it’s painfully obvious.

Less noticeably, yet just as vehemently, Rick Perry has jumped on this bandwagon and cleverly referred to Romney as a “vulture capitalist.” Very funny. At one point, I was prepared to support Perry as well. That budding support ended abruptly while watching one of the debates. Now that he’s added a dishonest attack on the free enterprise system on top of bad debate performances, there is no way I would even reconsider voting for him as the presidential nominee. This is not personal. I’m sure I would like him personally. But he has not handled himself in a manner that gives me any confidence in him as a national leader.

If either of these contenders had focused instead on the socialized healthcare Romney introduced into Massachusetts and his refusal to renounce that initiative, they would have had firm ground on which to criticize him. Yet they instead decided to play into Obama’s hands by trashing Romney as a hardhearted type of capitalist. You see, that’s the basis on which Obama hopes to win reelection: paint the Republican nominee as a tool of the rich and an oppressor of the working man. Classic class warfare. Classic Marxist ideology.

Why are Republicans who should know better catering to the class warfare argument? It will only come back to bite them in the end. The short answer, as I noted above, is that they believe it will help them overcome the lead Romney now has, and that it will give them a fighting chance to get the nomination.

Poor judgment. Utter selfishness. Unprincipled.

This has been a stain on the Republican party, and it saddens me. In this midst of this turmoil, Rick Santorum has refused to join the ranks of the unprincipled. While critiquing Romney on legitimate grounds, he has nevertheless defended the role of a venture capitalist. For this, he deserves the gratitude of an electorate seeking a candidate who has solid beliefs [whether you agree with all of them or not] and who maintains the proper character for someone running for the highest office in the land. I don’t know if Santorum is going to stumble in some way in the coming days, but I’m hopeful he will provide an alternative to what we have been witnessing. I can say without qualification that if the Florida Republican primary were held this day, Santorum would have my vote.

Let’s reintroduce principle into our politics.

Foolish Reasoning?

New Hampshire went for Mitt Romney last night. Not exactly a surprise. He owns a home there; he’s pretty much been campaigning there since the 2008 election. And New Hampshire is not Iowa. Approximately 26% of New Hampshire residents have no religious affiliation whatsoever, which is above the national average. Further, the primary process allowed anyone to participate as a Republican, even if just for a day. That’s why Romney could rack up a substantial score, as a number of moderate Democrats undoubtedly crossed the line this time. That also explains Paul’s second-place finish, as he, because of his foreign policy stance, attracted what I call the Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic party to his banner.

My concerns about Romney have not been assuaged over time. What concerns?

What is also bothersome is the spin the media places on the win. Due to his razor-thin “win” in Iowa [it more accurately could be called a tie with Santorum] and now his victory in New Hampshire, some are concluding the race is over. I do understand the psychology of that, but it doesn’t necessarily comport with reality. New Hampshire sends a whole twelve delegates to the Republican convention. Twelve. Out of more than two thousand.

Additionally, South Carolina, the site of the next primary, is not New Hampshire. In some ways, it comes closer to resembling Iowa in its perspective. New Hampshire should not, by any stretch of logic, be considered the final say on the nominee.

I continue to believe that Romney could lead the Republican party in an entirely wrong direction should he become the standard-bearer. They’ve tried his type of candidate before—anyone remember President Dole or President McCain? What the party really needs is a stalwart on conservative principles who also can reach out to what have been termed “Reagan Democrats.” I personally believe that person is Rick Santorum.

But the odds are that Republicans will mess it up again by their erroneous assumption that only a moderate can beat Obama. To me, such reasoning is foolishness, and it will hurt them in the long run more than they realize.

Having said all that, I now find myself in the somewhat strange position of defending Romney from some of his critics, namely Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry. The tack they’ve taken lately—accusing Romney of destroying lives through the company he ran previously—comes right from the Democrat playbook. In fact, some of the rhetoric being used against him aligns more with the Occupy Wall Street Movement/Fiasco than with sound economic principles. This smacks merely of political opportunism, pushing a populist message that they hope will reverse the course of the nomination process in their favor. For Gingrich, there’s also the flavor of revenge for what Romney’s minions did to him in Iowa.

The two candidates who did not pile on with this discreditable ploy were Paul and Santorum. They maintained integrity in this matter.

What’s it going to come down to?

Ultimately, regime change is the goal. I just want it to occur with solid principles and with someone I can trust.

The Santorum Surprise

Eight votes. That’s all that separated Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum once the Iowa caucuses ended. Technically, Romney was the winner, but one has to excuse Santorum for feeling as if he took the prize. Two weeks ago, no one saw this in the making; one week ago, though polls showed a Santorum surge, few could have guessed it would turn out this way.

Even the speeches given by both at the end of a long night marked the contrast: Santorum’s was, as many have commented, inspiring and from the heart, while Romney’s was a rehash of campaign rhetoric. Another factor that impressed me was the way Santorum identified with blue-collar workers because that was his family’s background. The story of his grandfather was Reaganesque, and while nearly every candidate has taken it upon himself or herself to embrace the Reagan mantle, Santorum has come closest to the actual spirit of the 40th president. One of the keys to Reagan’s success was his ability to relate to the so-called “common man.” If Santorum can do the same, he may continue to surprise.

What does this mean for him going forward? The climb to the nomination will be steep regardless of the Iowa infusion of adrenaline. New Hampshire, the first primary state, is Romney territory. Can Santorum build on his momentum and carve out a niche there large enough to keep the buzz alive? It’s then on to South Carolina, whose primary voters are more like Iowa’s than New Hampshire’s. Can he pull out a clear-cut victory in the Palmetto State?

One positive factor for him is the withdrawal of Michele Bachmann from the race. The most conservative candidates—Santorum, Bachmann, and Perry—have split the conservative vote. Now that she is no longer on the ballot, that could help Santorum. Although her numbers were not high in either New Hampshire or South Carolina, even a few more percentage points could make the difference. If Santorum had Bachmann’s 5% in Iowa, he would have run away with the top spot.

It looked like Perry was going to drop out as well, only to surprise even his own team by deciding to move on to South Carolina. That’s too bad. I like Perry, but he has no real chance at getting the nomination. His only contribution now will be to draw votes from Santorum, thereby giving Romney a greater opportunity to stay at the top.

The case with Gingrich is somewhat more complex. He is angry, and that anger is directed at Romney. He already has a full-page ad running in New Hampshire newspapers contrasting his conservatism with Romney’s moderate stance. He’s fighting back. That could re-energize his campaign, which might lower Romney’s numbers, yet it also could detract from Santorum’s, thereby creating a wash and maintaining the status quo.

Ron Paul, meanwhile, by coming in third, will put the best face on the result, but has to be disappointed. So many of the polls had him number one; perhaps his foreign policy views finally caught up with him. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t feel safe with Paul as commander-in-chief. He doesn’t really grasp the dangers we face from radical Islam. Let’s be honest: he’s more of a libertarian than a Republican. Iowa was his best shot; it will be downhill from this point for him. It’s time to pack it in and reject calls for a third-party candidacy that can only end in the reelection of Obama.

No matter what happens in New Hampshire, the race will not be decided there. Neither do I think South Carolina will serve that purpose. As a Floridian, I’m glad I will be able to participate in a primary with significance later this month. The media may want to call this for Romney at every point along the way, but that will be premature. Keep watching for surprises. I have this feeling there are more in the offing.

The Current Crop of Contenders

As a historian, I believe I’m somewhat prepared for less than perfection. I mean, in studying history, one realizes that the really principled people are fewer than they should be, and that we have to settle, more often than not, for less than the ideal. That applies to policies and people.

As I ponder the lineup of contenders for the Republican nomination this year, I’m reminded of that historical lesson. The two top prospects that I had counted on running opted out, leaving a field of potential nominees that are more flawed than usual, in my view. Now that doesn’t mean all are flawed in character, but there’s something in each one that makes him/her far less suited to the presidential role than others I would have chosen.

The one man who keeps bobbing to the surface is Mitt Romney. Conservatives are highly suspect of him, and rightly so. The apologist for Romneycare can hardly be expected to take it to Obama for his dramatic overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system. Any arguments Romney uses against Obama on that front won’t carry much conviction. In fact, it’s in the area of conviction that he’s questioned the most. Is he really pro-life? Is he squishy on homosexual marriage, based on his experience in Massachusetts? Those are important to me, and quite frankly, I don’t trust him. This is why he has a hard time staying on top of the polls. There are simply too many issues about his “core”:

Meanwhile, the conservatives can’t find one candidate around which to rally. Santorum is appealing to some, and he just got the endorsement of a key family issues organization as well as one of the leaders of social conservatives in Iowa. Will that make a difference? How does he overcome the image of a loser after his overwhelming defeat to retain his Senate seat? Bachmann is forceful, but seems too opportunistic. She will attack with relish anyone who is rising above her, even those she used to praise. A little self-serving, perhaps? Perry may have good perspectives and fine ideas, but will he ever be able to communicate them effectively? Paul is a doctrinaire libertarian, not a conservative. On foreign policy, he is little different than the most radical leftist who blames America for everything. Gingrich is a big question mark. He might be a great president, or he might be a disaster. I sense there will be no middle ground with him if he gets the office.

Where does this leave us?

As I said at the beginning, I don’t expect perfection, and sometimes politicians develop into real leaders unexpectedly. This may happen with someone in the current crop of contenders. But are we sure it’s too late for someone else to jump in and shake things up? I would welcome it.