Editorial: For the Republicans, Romney
5:40 PM CDT, March 16, 2012
This year, as rarely before, the presidential primary campaign lands in Illinois as a work very much in progress. The Democrats? They've settled on a candidate. But Republicans in the Land of, yes, Lincoln have urgent work to do — for their debt-besotted nation and their ostentatiously divided party.
America first: The United States — its people's sense of normalcy and, more gravely, their future prosperity — is in danger. Our national debt, trudging toward $16 trillion, exceeds the size of our economy. We owe more than we produce. And we are borrowing an additional $3 million every minute. As in the insolvent state of Illinois, debt repayment to lenders such as China increasingly crowds out spending on other priorities. Today's Washington isn't oblivious. Just useless.
Before we talk politics, consider: Entitlement costs and other "payments to individuals" now consume two-thirds of our federal budget. And with only a relative few baby boomers already 65, spending on retirees will explode. This lethal pathology — neither Medicare nor Social Security can survive as is — threatens the career incomes of our children and grandchildren. They will spend their work lives as indentured servants to their elders.
Who might engineer a fix? Only one of the four Republicans still in this primary race has the personal skill set, the painfully won experience, to appreciate this peril and to guide Americans through their own financial rescue. For many of those Americans, the nation's debt debacle still seems drab, dense, something to think about tomorrow. Yet it risks shrinking and marginalizing our country's future and global influence, just as debt debacles are shrinking and marginalizing much of Europe.
While three of the Republican candidates were giving speeches and casting votes in Congress, one of these four was managing, and sometimes salvaging, large enterprises in the public and private sectors. One of these four was forced to make costly organizations live, however unpleasantly, within their means. One of these four was learning what it is to live with the often good, sometimes bad, consequences of his executive decisions.
For his demonstrated abilities and the economic pragmatism at his core, the Tribune endorses former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts as the Republicans' best, most responsible choice in Tuesday's Illinois primary. The other three contestants, for lack of Romney's credibility on this threat to the American way, can only try to talk a good game. We're far more confident that Romney is the candidate best equipped to keep the U.S. from devolving into New Europe.
We say that with one large caveat: Romney has talked too much in generalities, and with come-and-go candor, about the radical restructuring that healthier spending and debt levels will require.
Romney's tax and spending proposals would create more federal debt over the next 10 years than President Obama's proposed budget plans, according to U.S. Budget Watch, a project of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Yes, that's in part because Obama envisions higher tax revenues and Romney would reduce tax revenues.
Romney has this advantage: GOP rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would create even more debt, according to the U.S. Budget Watch analysis. (Ron Paul would come closest to balance.)
Come November, partisans in both parties will be tempted to ignore their nominee's failure to deal with this debt bomb. The nation can't do that. Voters have to demand more discipline from Obama and from the Republican candidate.
One more advantage for Romney: He is the candidate most likely to steer the Republican Party toward its traditional values: financial responsibility, economic (and thus job) growth, social tolerance, and a limited role for government in the lives of the governed. That does not necessitate alienating tea partiers and social conservatives, many of them motivated by the irresponsible expansion of our national debt; for nearly three years they have been the most energetic force in American politics. It does, though, mean hewing to a strategy perfected by Ronald Reagan: Recruit to your big tent everyone who agrees with you on something, not just those who agree with you on everything.
Presidential primaries are not for electing. They're for nominating candidates who, by talent and temperament, are qualified to lead and inspire all Americans. Romney is the least polarizing candidate in today's Republican field. He projects maturity and calm. He's fit to apply conservative ideals to the messy business of governing.
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