Why I Chose Romney

I prefer shorter submissions, but I hope everyone will bear with me on this one.

As many of my friends know, I decided last week to support Mitt Romney in his quest for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

As the 2008 race got under way way back when, I had no real intention of endorsing any of the candidates. There were (and are) a number of good men running, and at the beginning, at least, it didn’t seem as if any of the so-called “first-tier” candidates had the capacity to reach into the various constituent parts of the conservative base of the Republican Party to come anywhere close to developing consensus support among the conservative voters who make up most of that base.

In addition, I consider a number of the major and minor candidates friends and had no real desire to support one over another without good reason.

That situation, however, has changed for a variety of reasons. The first is that once Fred Thompson joined the race, the field was complete and one of those running was going to be nominated. The front-runner from the beginning has been Rudy Giuliani, who I mistakenly dismissed early on because I didn’t think he would wear very well outside New York.

As I analyzed the race, I concluded a few months ago that, as a practical matter, the nominee was going to be either Rudy, Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney and realized that I was becoming more and more convinced that either Thompson or Romney would be preferable from my perspective. Then the Thompson campaign imploded, which left me with two options: I could do nothing — or endorse Romney.

I would have stayed on the sidelines, but was slowly coming to realize that Romney, unlike Giuliani, might just have the ability to unite conservatives and is their best chance to advance our policy goals should Republicans hold the White House. His commitments on a variety of issues have struck me as credible as he strives to put together a coalition of Republicans that will give him a chance to win both his party’s nomination and a general election.

He likes to talk about the fact that he’s not a Washington insider and that is both true and important. More important, however, is the fact that he has reformed large institutions and enterprises, never shirked a challenge and recognizes that the federal government needs massive reform.

Some months ago I asked South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative I admire, why he signed on with Romney. He said he was for Romney because he sensed the strength of his values and because he (DeMint) had no idea how badly the federal government was being run until he got to Washington. “We need someone who has run something and knows how to turn things around.”

DeMint’s words kept coming back to me as I contemplated the way the race was developing. Both Giuliani and Romney have executive experience outside Washington, but I just don’t see Rudy as one who respects the limits under which a president must and should operate. Every biography of him refers admiringly or not to his tendency to high-handedness, his thin skin and his insistence on being surrounded with “yes” men.

Romney is quite different. He’s governed successfully in one of the most liberal states in the nation and while he’s had to bend to accommodate the reality of political life in Massachusetts, he’s managed to accomplish a good deal more than most conservatives would have under similar circumstances. Once more, anyone who has spent any time with him realizes that he is intellectually inquisitive and comfortable enough with himself to welcome divergent views from those around him.

What’s more, his positions on a number of important issues have matured. His reaction to the attack on his views on abortion, for example, during the so-called YouTube debate struck me as genuine and reasonable. He said he had been wrong and confessed that his views have changed over time, adding that anyone looking for a candidate who has never made a mistake might be best advised to look elsewhere. He might have added, but did not, that Ronald Reagan followed much the same path that he has on the life issue … beginning as a pro-choice governor and eventually morphing into a staunch pro-lifer.

Change isn’t all bad. Romney has in every area where he has changed moved to the right, and he’s done so in a way that I find credible. Others — like John McCain — have over their careers traveled a different path, from consistent conservative to less reliable. I prefer politicians who learn from their mistakes and who mature over time. Romney strikes me as such a politician, and I welcome the movement I’ve witnessed on issues of great importance to all conservatives.

And then there’s the alternative. No, it’s not Mike Huckabee or Duncan Hunter or even Fred Thompson. It’s Rudy, and I don’t find his current posturing very credible.

On abortion and guns, two issues central to the Rudy we know, he’s suggesting that while he isn’t changing his position on these issues, he will support the appointment of judges and Supreme Court justices in the mold of Scalia and Roberts — appointees who if confirmed would make his own views irrelevant.

Think about that for a minute. Here’s a guy who has expressed strong opinions on these issues in the past and taken action to back up those opinions. On guns, for example, while he likes to talk about the unique situation he confronted in New York City, he doesn’t mention that he was in the forefront of national lawsuits designed to essentially shut down the U.S. gun industry.

Are we now to believe that if he wins the presidency he will appoint judges (who are, after all, any president’s most lasting legacy) who will go against him on virtually everything? I, for one, don’t find that very credible, and I’m not sure many voters will either.

Moreover, while I think it’s possible that Romney can hold the GOP coalition together, I fear that Rudy can’t and won’t. The result could be that enough conservatives stay home to affect the outcome in key states and give the general election to Hillary Clinton.

But why now? I could have waited to see what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire; to see if I’m right about how things are developing. The simple answer is that by that time the race might be over.

To win, Romney has to put together a string of early victories in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina that will bring Rudy’s numbers down in Florida and beyond. I’m convinced that if he wins all these contests (as he very well might), he’ll be the nominee, but if he loses any of them we could be in for a long and perhaps bitter battle between the two.

Romney has been ahead in Iowa for a good long time, but is now threatened by Mike Huckabee, who is attractive to many Iowa Republicans both for his personal qualities and religious background, but isn’t all that well-known on the issues. That may or may not change before the caucuses, but as he gains support that I don’t believe he can build on even if he wins or does exceedingly well in Iowa, his rise threatens the string of victories that Romney needs to break through against Rudy.

For all of these reasons, I decided last week to come out for Romney and do what I can to convince other conservatives to do the same. I don’t kid myself into believing that I have a conservative army out there ready and willing to follow my lead. I don’t. But I do think a lot of conservatives have the same concerns about the race that I do and I believe a few might benefit from what brought me to where I am today.

If that happens, I will have done my part.

Keene is chairman of The American Conservative Union, whose website can be accessed here.