For all the difficult problems the nation faces, from high unemployment to mounting national debt to the vexing war in Afghanistan, the contest for the Republican presidential nomination process has produced far more distractions than solutions. Primary voters and caucus-goers have elevated and rejected a string of front-runners, each seemingly more improbable than the last. And fueling it all has been the corrosive influence of millions in unlimited and unregulated campaign spending through super PACs that has propped some candidates up past their shelf lives and allowed for barrages of negative advertising the likes of which voters have rarely seen.
Though this nominating contest has seemed circus-like at times, it is important to remember that one of the four major candidates left — Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — could well become the next president of the United States. When Maryland voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they would do well to consider not just which of them is most conservative, or which would present the starkest contrast with President Barack Obama, but which of them would be best able to govern if elected. By that standard, one candidate stands head and shoulders above the rest: Mitt Romney.
(President Obama is uncontested in the Democratic primary, though members of his party do still need to vote on Tuesday to make their choices forU.S. Senateand Congress.)
Mr. Romney's record in the public and private sectors has been one of putting pragmatism over ideology. Despite his recent insistence that he is "severely" conservative, he has shown a willingness and ability to be a problem-solver first and foremost, someone able to work with those of divergent political views to achieve common goals. That was the hallmark of his time as Massachusetts governor. Given the destructive gridlock in Washington today — caused in no small part by the unwillingness of recently elected tea party Republicans to agree to compromises that serve the broad public interest — that is what the nation needs.
Mr. Gingrich has also shown an ability to work across the political aisle; for all his bluster as speaker of the House in the 1990s, his partnership with President Bill Clinton was strikingly productive. But other elements of his time as speaker, and his performance during the current campaign, demonstrate his unsuitability for the presidency. He has big ideas, but he lacks focus. He has a tendency toward the grandiose, casting himself as a central figure in a historical struggle. We don't need that kind of drama. We need results.
Mr. Santorum similarly promises a distraction from the key matters at hand. He has shown himself much too interested in reigniting culture wars over birth control and the separation of church and state, while offering too little detail on how to fix the economy or control the deficit. Mr. Paul offers policy prescriptions too extreme to win support even of a majority of Republicans, much less the entire Congress. His uncompromising libertarianism is fascinating but not an effective governance strategy.
In some states, voters have used this primary campaign to make a statement about who counts as a true Republican. Marylanders, instead, should use this election to choose someone who could lead the entire nation. The only Republican on the ballot with the potential to do that is Mitt Romney.