Over a year ago and many times since, I wrote that I could give no endorsement, because I had honestly not made up my mind about which candidate to support. I also told the CapQ community that if I did make a decision, I would announce it as soon as I made it so that they knew where I stood. The deadline for that decision rapidly approaches, since Minnesota caucuses on February 5th, and I have decided to caucus for Mitt Romney.
This decision did not come easily. Some have complained about the choices available to the Republicans, but I have seen the field as a collection of highly accomplished, experienced candidates, almost all of whom I could support -- enthusiastically -- in a general election. That made the decision as hard as it was, and it forced me to analyze what I want to see in a nominee.
First, I want to have someone who supports conservative values. In this, we have no perfect candidates. Fred Thompson came closest, but he quit, and I'm not going to cast my vote for someone who has already dropped out. Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain all have some claim to a portion of the conservative mandate based on their accomplishments. Of the four, I trust Romney and Giuliani most to continue supporting conservative principles in the face of opposition -- and in fact I'd probably trust Giuliani a little more.
Second, and very importantly, the Republican should have demonstrated success in executive management in both private and public sectors. This eliminates everyone except Romney and Rudy. John McCain wants to make the case that his experience as squadron leader qualifies, and it does demonstrate leadership, but not executive experience. Both Rudy and Romney have led entire organizations in both the public and private sectors, with Romney getting the best in this area. They have had the buck stop at their desk. Both Rudy and Romney have transformed failing entities (New York City and the Salt Lake City Olympics). McCain led 400 men, but he answered to commanders above him at several levels while doing so, and I have yet to see an argument for transformation under McCain's leadership.
Why is this important? The Democrats have no one who can match that experience. Putting McCain or especially Fred Thompson against the Democratic nominee, whether that is Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, effectively cedes the inexperience argument. It argues that Republicans consider resumes to be irrelevant, and that will have us fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.
Third, we face a tough election if the economy turns south, even mildly. We saw this in 1992 and lost when Bill Clinton successfully convinced people that he had the best ideas for a turnaround. We have one candidate who has undeniable success in the global markets, who understands them and the players that run them. Romney gives us an advantage as the nominee that none of the others can match in this regard.
Over the last two weeks, my focus has come down to Rudy and Romney. Both would make good Presidents. Mitt, however, has shown that he will fight in every state, while Rudy played a bit of rope-a-dope -- and has apparently lost the gamble. Until the debate, I thought Rudy might have had the right idea, but Rudy still hasn't come out of the gate in any effective manner.
Romney is not a perfect candidate. We don't have any perfect candidates. In fact, I could still support Rudy, McCain, or Mike Huckabee without reservation in a general election against either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I think, though, that Romney has the most staying power, the better argument, and the best resume of the remaining Republican candidates. I will enthusiastically caucus for Mitt Romney on February 5th.
Addendum: I have thoroughly enjoyed interviewing the candidates in this race, and I believe I have given all of them a fair shake. Part of that "fair shake" includes being honest about my decision. It also means giving you a fair shake as well.
Yesterday's interview with Mitt Romney helped me firm up my choice. Be sure to listen to it on tomorrow's Heading Right Radio show at 3 pm ET.
UPDATE: Jim Geraghty comes to my defense.
UPDATE II: To no one's surprise, Hugh approves.
UPDATE III: Mark Tapscott has a very kind post about my endorsement. I'm getting some mixed e-mails, but almost everyone thanks me for the tone of the post. I've been taking most of the day off, but it's nice coming back to the comments and the e-mails I've received.