Ok. I've studied the candidates, weighed their merits, and I think I'm ready to make my 2012 endorsement.
Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are unelectable. Other than Cain- who has no qualifications to speak of- they are simply too extreme. At least the first two are insufficiently in contact with political and economic reality not to raise questions in different ways as to whether their candidacies might not be actual threats to the national security. Paul is clueless where foreign policy is concerned, and his libertarianism is repugnant to me. Moreover, nobody who could allow a racist newsletter to be pubished under his name for year and then excuse himself by saying that he didn't know what was in it has any business asking us to trust him with the destiny of the nation. And what can you say about a candidate like Bachmann, who is willing to damage the value of the economic faith and credit of the United States and deal severe blows to her fellow Americans at a moment in which they are already in serious economic crisis in order to win a political argument with the incumbent president? Rick Perry, too, strikes me as too far to the Right. While he might be somewhat more electable than the others, I have my doubts about whether he could pull it off.
Romney tempted me. He can beat Obama, he's already the front-runner, and he's at least acceptable to me on the issues. But his record on judicial appointments isn't reassuring, and neither is his track record of going negative on fellow Republicans. And then, there's the inauthenticity thing. I'd have no trouble voting for Romney if he were nominated. But I just can't get enthusiastic about him as a first choice.
Jon Huntsman would probably be the strongest candidate in the general election the Republican party could nominate. While I disagree with his position advocating civil unions for gays, even that has its positive side; according to the polls, a majority of the American people now favor gay "marriage," and civil unions would not only head off the spread of that legal oxymoron but utterly destroy the constitutional- and therefore the legal- rationale for it. The decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, to be specific, would be robbed of any possible legal merit by the institution of civil unions (a fact, btw, which itself renders the Court's logic problematic; equal rights could have been granted to gay couples just as readily by civil unions, a less drastic recourse than the re-definition of society's most basic unit, thereby undoing thousands of years of legal precedent). But Huntsman seems as soft as custard on Afghanistan. Admittedly, we have to leave the Karsai regime to stand on its own, and soon. But our exit needs to be timed in such a way as to maximize the chances of keeping the Taliban out of power. This does not seem to be a priority for Huntsman.
That leaves Tim Pawlenty. My chief reservation about him is that he's too nice. He's the anti-Romney; he should be attacking Bachmann and Romney a great deal more forcefully than he is. Yes, it does make me a bit uncomfortable to wonder whether he'd be as shrill as might be required in attacking the Obama record. But at a time when civility and comity are in such short supply, the kind of leadership and example a president who can behave like a grownup in public (and especially when dealing with political opponents) strikes me as a definite plus. He has deliberately positioned himself as the anti-isolationist in a Republican field all too willing to abandon America's role in the world at a time when our position of global diplomatic, military and economic power is already under attack. His record as governor of Minnesota is one of unquestionable competence. He as shown the courage and the leadership a president needs, and an ability to combine that inclination to civility mentioned above with the firmness that faced down public sector unions and rabid Democratic opposition in St. Paul.
I'll be going up to Ames and voting for Tim Pawlenty in the Straw Poll in four weeks, and I plan to support him at my local caucus come next February. I think he'd make a fine president, and while I could vote for any of the other Republican candidates except for Paul or Bachmann, I think T-Paw would make the best president of the bunch.