Romney's debate performance was as steady and solid and stolid as ever, becoming particularly enthusiastic when talking about the things he's done -- build a business, rescue the Winter Olympics, govern the most liberal state in the Union. He got especially animated talking about his Massachusetts health care reform, achieved by working with an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. His message? I'm a doer, a problem solver, a uniter.
Yet when Romney simultaneously insists that he represents the purest of the pure -- "the Republican wing of the Republican Party" -- he presents the paradox of a technocrat running as an ideologue. Figuring that running as a sane Ross Perot doesn't quite enrapture the Republican primary electorate, he is trying also to be the authentic Reagan conservative, filling the ideological slot George Allen forfeited when he lost his Senate race last year. It's an odd fit that all of Romney's smoothness and intelligence has yet to convincingly achieve.
As for Thompson, he is a paradox, too. He's been around forever -- since Watergate -- and yet is mostly a blank slate. Can anybody remember anything of significance he achieved in his eight years in the Senate? Nonetheless, he helped himself in Orlando, showing that while he can be appealingly amiable and affable -- a Reaganesque quality that should not be underestimated when people decide who they want in their living rooms for the next four years -- he can be tough, as demonstrated by his opening salvo at Giuliani's social liberalism.
Yes, I know. I've left out Huckabee, whom some of my colleagues are aggressively trying to promote to the first tier. I refuse to go along. Huckabee is funny, well-spoken and gave a preacher's stemwinder that wowed the religious right gathering in Washington last Saturday. But whatever foreign policy he has is naive and unconvincing. In wartime, that is a disqualification for commander in chief.
So no more gnashing of teeth. Republicans have 4 1/2 good presidential candidates. All five would make fine Cabinet members: Romney at Treasury, Thompson at Justice, McCain at Defense, Giuliani at Homeland Security, Huckabee at Interior. All the team needs now is to pick a captain who can beat Hillary.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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