[I made a couple of minor edits and fleshed it out a bit more. The overall arc is the same.]
Here is where I go off the rails and tell people that I've finally decided on which candidate I like the best and tell them whom to vote for.
I've decided to endorse three of them, in this order:
1) Rick Perry, current Governor of Texas
2) Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and...
3) Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and general Idea Man About Town and Bon Vivant.
I've thought a long time about this recommendation and I hope you will too. They're in the order I prefer, and you'll notice that I'm not and never have been a Redstate front-pager. I understand why their order might be different than mine. Redstate has a self-imposed duty to support unwavering pro-life candidates and people with impeccable Conservative records. That's their imprimatur as a blog and an adjuvant to Human Events and I understand the demands of their mandate. But as a longstanding user here, someone who the Editors tolerate with various degrees of hilarity and/or disgust, I can differ from them time to time without suffering the Spiked Pipe(tm). And therefore I will do so now:
Rick Perry is my #1 choice right now because I think he's actually the least compromised and most truly bonafide Conservative candidate in the race. He had a couple of missteps in the early debates but everything since then has been wonderful. He is going to be the only candidate I donate money to in this election cycle. I'm supporting him with cash. Not much, but he's the only candidate I'm supporting with cash. Romney and Gingrich have enough already, and I want more than anything else to see Rick Perry make this a contest.
In the end I trust Rick Perry more than I do either Romney or Gingrich when it comes to the things I care about as a Republican/Conservative.
This is not fealty to Redstate: I've liked Perry from the beginning and the only thing that upset me were his bobbles in the earlier debates. He screwed up a little but it was no big deal to me. After watching him debate several times now I still think where he'll find his moment in is the one-on-one contest with the guy whose job he wants to take. He wants to debate the One, not the Others, so to speak.
Among the last two candidates I think are viable, I pick Romney over Gingrich. To some of you, knowing that I live in Massachusetts that's not much of a surprise, but believe me - it's a surprise to me. I've had nothing but time to assess his tenure as governor here now that Deval Patrick is our governor, and my verdict is that I would take Romney back tomorrow if he wanted to be Governor again. PLEASE. Yes, Romneycare sucks in Massachusetts and I *still* pick him over Gingrich. Why? Because I really think he's learned more than anyone else in the past five years. People are going to look at me and throw shoes and say, "Kowalski, you schmuck, you're just a starry eyed optimist" but I still think he's a better and more stable candidate than Gingrich who can get things done against an *almost overwhelming* opposition. I have no real *oomph* for Gingrich. I'm sorry but I don't. I look back at his record and I read the people who won't endorse him now, and they're the people who knew him best. You can hate on Ramesh Ponnuru but he's no flake and if it came down to having someone on *my* side in a bad debate scenario, you'd better believe I'd want Ramesh in my corner.
So Romney is my fallback candidate of choice -- and believe me -- people can lick their wounds and learn to live with him as the President here on the Right. He'll be great with a legislature that holds his feet to the fire in particular. He'll also do a great job on the world stage for America, because he's not going to trip over his words, he's not going to make mincemeat out of the English language, he has a great looking family, and as far as those things are concerned I don't have any doubt he'll meet anyone in the world eye-to-eye with no problem. And I don't want to hear any more about people fired from Bain Capital: that's part of the job. Romney is a careful and thoughtful man, and he'll do *very* well with a legislature behind him that keeps his toes warm. Romney lived with the most single-party state legislature in the country and did a pretty good job from the other party. He didn't waver on the 2nd Amendment even though there was a lot of pressure for him to do so. The key thing about Romney is that, yes - it's true to a certain extent: he does change his positions according to political calculations, but if we have a strong legislature behind him, that will do a lot of good. Romney really wants this job and my educated guess is that he's going to be a very accessible President to the people who were able to overcome their doubts and work productively with him. He wants to be a success, and he knows America has to succeed for him to be a success if he wins.
I don't know of anyone personally who can learn to live with Gingrich in Massachusetts, but I guess people think someone can, so I've had to reassess him. The time goes back a long way. I've had to discard a lot of things I thought I knew about him. I apologize for my most memorable "memory" of him, which was planted there erroneously. Who is he? Who would he be? He'd be a Philosopher-President with a hardcore Engineering sensibility, and I mean that in terms of real Engineering, not social Engineering. Very gabby and talkative, at times in several different directions. Sometimes captivatingly so, and he's very far from clueless. He's someone who talks with people with his ideas, who tries to persuade them with the power of his ideas as a leader, occasionally making use of the Bully Pulpit to do so - and convincingly - a lot of the time. He doesn't mind conversations with people - he really *is* smart enough to make his case and think around most of the potential obstacles, most of the time. I can really see Newt Gingrich using the Oval Office address effectively again (to a lesser extent Romney also). In terms of other things -- Is he a person who truly loves America? Someone who wants to see America succeed? A guy who knows how the sausage is made in Congress? Someone who isn't going to show up there wet behind the ears as the Executive? Newt Gingrich is all those things, too. **I** can definitely live with a guy like that as our President. He's always said that if the moment was there, he'd be ready for it. So I'll give him the chance, too.
All that has passed is past. At some point the statute of limitations on mistakes has to be invoked. Newt's wives don't bug me. The fact that political cartoonists find him easy to caricature doesn't influence my thinking by one iota. Romney's adventure with the Massachusetts Legislature doesn't bother me. Let us all look toward the future. You go to war with the army you have, not always the army you want.
So there it is. Hurl the substantive matters at me now so I can debate them with you, and I'll do my best. My hope and money is with Rick Perry, there's $50 in that, my safety is with Romney, and my last best choice is Gingrich. I can learn to live with him if you Gingrich guys can learn to live with Romney in that eventuality.
My sincere belief/suspicion is that Romney will be the nominee. In that case I am going to be proven wrong on #1, passably right on #2, and right on #3, also. As far as spending $50 on Rick Perry's campaign, if I lose, I couldn't lose the $50 supporting a better guy. We'll see what happens.
I will also say that I've tried to read as many thoughtful people's accounts of these folks as our nominee as I could. And the Washington Times was wrong: it's not like stuffing a cat into a trash can, it's like trying to flush a cat down the toilet.
There are a whole list of people who I will not accept as President. I'm not an elitist: I don't even have a car I can drive right now. The elitists have their picks, I have mine and until I become an official member of the Elite (which I'm sure I'll let everyone know when the transition occurs) those are my picks, in that order.
Out of all these three, my biggest doubt about Gingrich comes down to what I fear is a tendency on his part to 1) Micromanage and 2) Lose Interest. I'm worried that he's a quick study and that he won't follow through. That's why he's last on my list.
In the end, I want to impel everyone who reads this to think carefully, balance it all out, and vote for the person you really think is the overall best to lead our country during these weird and strange and dangerous times. I think a vote for any of these three men wouldn't be wasted. Governance is a continuous process and life never stops moving. We can work with these three people better than anyone else, none of them have two heads, and most of the one head each of them have is pretty damn good. They are all my pick for President (but I do have a preference). :)