Sobriety, wisdom and judgment.
Those are qualities Mitt Romney said he looks for in a leader. Those are qualities Romney himself has demonstrated in his career in business, public service and government. Those qualities help the former Massachusetts governor stand out as the most qualified Republican candidate competing in the Iowa caucuses.
Sobriety: While other candidates have pandered to extremes with attacks on the courts and sermons on Christian values, Romney has pointedly refrained from reckless rhetoric and moralizing. He may be accused of being too cautious, but choosing words carefully is a skill essential for anyone who could be sitting in the White House and reacting to world events.
Wisdom: Romney obviously is very smart. He graduated as valedictorian at Brigham Young University and finished in the top 5 percent in his MBA class at Harvard, where he also earned a law degree. Romney also exhibits the wisdom of a man who listened and learned from his father and his mother, from his church and from his own trials and errors in life. He does not lack self confidence, but he is not afraid to admit when he has been wrong.
Judgment: Romney disagrees with Democrats on most issues, but he offers smart and well-reasoned alternatives rather than simply proposing to swing a wrecking ball in Washington. He is a serious student of public policy who examines the data before making a decision. His detailed policy paper on the economy contains 87 pages of carefully crafted positions on taxes, energy, trade and regulatory policy, complete with 127 footnotes.
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Mitt Romney is making his second bid for Iowans’ support after an unsuccessful run in 2008. We did not endorse him then, but this is a different field, and he has matured as a candidate. Rebuilding the economy is the nation’s top priority, and Romney makes the best case among the Republicans that he could do that.
He stands out in the current field of Republican candidates. He has solid credentials in a career that includes running and starting successful businesses, turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics and working with both political parties as Massachusetts governor to pass important initiatives. He stands out especially among candidates now in the top tier: Newt Gingrich is an undisciplined partisan who would alienate, not unite, if he reverts to mean-spirited attacks on display as House speaker. Ron Paul’s libertarian ideology would lead to economic chaos and isolationism, neither of which this nation can afford.
Romney is accused of being a “flip-flopper.” He has evolved from one-time independent to moderate Republican in liberal Massachusetts to proud conservative today. He does not deny changing his position on some issues, but he will say he has made mistakes and has learned from them. Though Romney has tended to adapt some positions to different times and places, he is hardly unique. It should be possible for a politician to say, “I was wrong, and I have changed my mind.”
But more subtle distinctions apply to Romney on some major issues where he has been accused of flipping or flopping. He helped create health-care reform in Massachusetts that is strikingly similar to the much-derided “Obamacare,” for example. Yet Romney argues reasonably, though not entirely persuasively, that while all states should be free to experiment with their own reforms, it is wrong for the federal government to force a one-size-fits-all plan on the entire nation.
Romney’s tendency to carefully pick his way through the political minefields is illustrated by his carefully nuanced position on abortion over the years. He was quoted in 1994 as defending a woman’s right to choose abortion. When he ran for governor in 2002, Romney said he was personally pro-life but vowed he would not restrict or promote access to abortion. Yet he vetoed legislation legalizing the so-called morning-after pill because he saw it as easing access to abortion.
Voters will have to decide for themselves whether such subtly nuanced statements express Romney’s true beliefs or if he’s trying to have it both ways. Romney at least appreciates both sides of hard questions. “Many women considering abortions face terrible pressures, hurts, and fears; we should come to their aid with all the resourcefulness and empathy we can offer,” he wrote in a Boston Globe essay in 2005. “At the same time, the starting point should be the innocence and vulnerability of the child waiting to be born.”
While other Republican candidates are content to bash the president’s health reform law without offering meaningful reforms of their own, Romney has defended the principal goal of the Massachusetts health care legislation, which was to ensure that all residents there had access to health care. In the same way, Romney’s strategy on taxes is unique among the Republican contenders in calling for reforms that would benefit middle-income Americans and not just those at the top of the economic pyramid.
This ability to see the merits of tough issues from something other than a knee-jerk, ideological perspective suggests that Mitt Romney would be willing to bridge the political divide in Washington. Americans are desperate for the Republicans and Democrats to work together. His record of ignoring partisan labels to pass important legislation when he was governor of Massachusetts suggests he is capable to making that happen.
For those reasons, Mitt Romney deserves the support of his party in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. If he is the GOP nominee, the nation would have a clear choice in November 2012.
WE OWE YOU OUR FRANK OPINION OF CANDIDATES
The Des Moines Register has been publishing presidential endorsements before general elections for more than 60 years. However, we didn’t endorse in the caucuses until 1988. Prior to that, the thinking was the editorial page should refrain from getting mixed up in the business of who a political party chooses as its nominee.
By 1988, the Iowa caucuses had established themselves as a matter of national interest. The people of this state were watching the candidates up close, and the country was watching Iowa.
“We’ve had a front-row view of these candidates and their ideas for more than a year, and it seems to us that we owe you a frank opinion on them,” explained James Gannon, the Register’s editor then.
The tradition of endorsing in caucuses was born. And here we are again.
Opinion pages are, after all, in the opinion business. We weigh in on issues of public interest 365 days of the year. Today’s endorsement is not intended to tell Iowans who to caucus for on Jan. 3. It is not to campaign for a candidate. (If we wanted to do that, we would have weighed in months ago and written subsequent editorials supporting that person). It is not to predict a winner.
Our goal in an endorsement is to provide a perspective for Iowans beyond what they read in regular news coverage and see in debates.
Rick Green, now the Register’s editor, said, “Our goal is to answer one question: who among these candidates would make the best leader for our country, should he or she land in the White House.”
Iowans take seriously their role as the first-in-the-nation caucus, Green said. So, too, does the Register. “We’re part of a unique conversation that dominates our state every four years but stretches well beyond Iowa. We embrace that responsibility thoughtfully, seriously and with due diligence.”
Our endorsement decision was informed by watching and listening to the candidates. We read widely — their speeches, position papers and contrary views. And we had the opportunity to question the candidates in interviews with the editorial board.
The staff met with all the Republican candidates who campaigned in Iowa. We have shared impressions from these meetings on the Opinion pages over the past few months.
Endorsements are the culmination of a long process. Last week, the editorial board met and worked to reach a consensus.
Members of the board are Laura Hollingsworth, the Register’s publisher and president; Rick Green, editor and vice president; Randy Evans, editorial page editor; and editorial writers Rox Laird and Andie Dominick. No one else at the newspaper attends this meeting or has any say in our endorsements.
As always, candidates who receive the Register’s nod receive no special consideration in subsequent news coverage or editorials.
In fact, we run our endorsements shortly before an election or caucus and later than many newspapers. That allows us to take full measure of candidates as their campaigns unfold, the same way other Iowans do.
So again today this newspaper is doing what we’ve done for almost 25 years: being part of the dialogue of democracy.
Thanks for reading.
— Editorial page staff
SNAPSHOTS FROM OUR INTERVIEWS
The Des Moines Register’s editorial board met with all of the candidates competing in next month’s Iowa caucuses with the exception of Jon Huntsman, who never responded to our invitation. You can view videos of those meetings here.
After each editorial board meeting, we published essays we call “Impressions of the Candidates” on the Register’s Opinion page. Here are snapshots of those essays.
Michele Bachmann virtually sprinted through the newsroom and talked at an equally rapid clip. She unapologetically reeled off a litany of tea party ideals, including abolishing Great Society programs, shrinking government and eliminating the entire federal tax code (though she wants even poor people to pay taxes). Overall impression: An impressive fireball who can absorb and regurgitate tons of information, even if some of it turns out to be inaccurate.
Gingrich was in his kinder if not gentler mode and made the case that he’s best equipped to cure what ails America. He says he’s the only candidate with ideas and the ability to execute them. Despite his divisive reputation, he said he’s changed and could bridge the partisan divide. Overall impression: Between the books he’s read and the books he’s written, Gingrich juggles endless ideas, but he has yet to make the case he could focus his attention on the important ones.
Ron Paul was on a libertarian streak that made clear his devotion to a strict reading of the Constitution. He would eliminate any laws not explicitly authorized in that document, along with the Federal Reserve and five Cabinet departments (all of which he can name). He insists these principles he’s held for 30 years make him the only true Republican. Overall impression: A well-schooled contrarian who shouldn’t be written off as a nut, even if some of his ideas are nutty.
Rick Perry did not wear cowboy boots, but his Texas drawl was distinct. Some of his points in were not, though, and his answers often rambled. He would administer the Texas tonic he’s administered there and replicate his state’s economic success nationally. He would make Congress part time, and he’d end what he sees a war on religion by judges and the current president. Overall impression: After some debate stumbles, he asks voters to take a second look, but it may take more than that.
Rick Santorum was most passionate about preserving marriage against attacks from gay couples. He also became animated about needing to sacrifice a few moose and drill for oil in Alaska. Beyond establishing moral values, he believes the government should mostly get out of the way and let Americans fend for themselves and free enterprise will flourish. Overall impression: He’d use the presidential bully pulpit to be the nation’s minister-in-chief.
Source: Des Moines register