The South Carolina primary is coming up this Saturday February 21, and–as of yesterday–the Republican field has contracted to 5. A look at the last remaining contenders or, as I heard on NPR, Mitt Romney and his four opponents:
- Rick Perry: Enjoyed a surge in the polls after his late entry into the race. A Texas conservative who’s tried to parlay his “Aw shucks” demeanor into a serious run at the White House. His performance has been rather lackluster and in many ways he has come across as painfully dumb. The popular image of George W. Bush was one of limited intelligence, and Rick Perry makes Bush look like a genius by comparison.
- Newt Gingrich: For a time he too looked like a real choice in this contest…and in many ways he still is. There are no questions about Newt’s intelligence or experience. Just his stability. Republicans may desire a strong conservative leader, but Gingrich comes across as too undisciplined and–shall I use the word?–maverick at times. Plus, the motif of self-aggrandizement that seems to surround him speaks to a kind of nascent megalomania that concerns people.
- Rick Santorum: Rocketed from relative obscurity to the talk of the town thanks to his virtual tie with Mitt Romney in Iowa. He’s the kind of conservative that social conservatives love…and everyone else looks at a little suspiciously. He may do well in South Carolina, but I question his ability to succeed going forward.
- Ron Paul: Maintains a large following, but not large enough to guarantee the Republican nomination. People love his economic libertarianism, and young people are especially enthralled with Paul’s call to legalize marijuana and bring all of our troops home. Paul is the real deal here: he believes what he says and would actually try to do it as president. In the process, however, he comes off as a little crazy and far too radical for the mainstream of a basically center-right country.
- Last and certainly not least: Mitt Romney. I am not endorsing any candidate–Republican or Democrat–but I will say this: Romney is the best remaining choice the Republicans have this year. He comes off as robotic, calculated, aloof, and occasionally out of touch…but he’s their man. He has the money to run a national campaign. He’s been building the organization to do so for years. He brings experience as a governor, organizer of the Salt Lake City Olympics, and successful businessman to the roundtable. Though criticized for his “flip-flopping,” suspected cutthroat business practices, and occasional moderate tendencies…it may be just these things that help him to win in November and become a successful president. To do so, however, he’s going to need to create a lot more enthusiasm than currently exists for the “robot Mormon opportunist” he appears to be for so many. A solid vice-presidential choice may help with this…but that’s a conversation for another day.