Throughout the highly anticipated Republican debate on Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Library, Mitt Romney presented himself as a seasoned presidential contender unabashedly ready to defend his imperfect and often controversial record.
Despite his strong showing, however, as Chief Executive of Massachusetts he ranked 47th in the nation in job creation. Rick Perry, on the other hand, created more jobs in Texas than any other sitting governor in recent history.
In spite of his shortcomings as a public servant, Governor Romney adeptly defended his candidacy on Wednesday by touting his private-sector experience, underscoring his rhetorical skills, and deflecting criticism onto his most formidable political opponent.
“States are different,” he said in a jab at Governor Rick Perry. “Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right to work state, a republican legislature, a republican supreme court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things.”
In an adroit political maneuver, Romney subtly argued that his inability to grow the economy as governor of Massachusetts – which continues to hurt his image as the strongest job creator in the Republican field – was more a corollary of insufficient resources and partisan politics than his own personal failings. While his furtive response doesn’t excuse his shockingly abysmal track record, it’s worth noting that his capacity to address tough questions under pressure, and appear unsullied, is a political skill likely to draw voters.
Whether or not conservatives will actually support him, however, is an entirely different question. Nevertheless, as the debate unfolded, it became increasingly obvious that Mitt Romney was able to seamlessly present his talking points in concise, collected and presidential language.
What has differentiated the former governor most from his Republican rivals was his emphatic assertion that if elected president -- on his very first day in office -- he would initiate several executive orders to jumpstart the economy. After three years of uncertainty, economic stagnation and a myriad of oppressive federal regulations, Romney’s systematic pledge to remedy the chronic unemployment problem has helped establish him as a courageous leader ready to tackle the nation’s problems.
The American people, moreover, are sick and tired of listening to stump speeches and empty rhetoric. That’s why Romney’s new jobs plan, which he referenced periodically throughout the debate, gives credence to his message and substance to his candidacy.
Furthermore, his refusal to engage in personal attacks against the President, as he has consistently refrained from doing throughout the primary season, was another positive takeaway for the Romney campaign.
“This president is a nice guy,” he said. “But he doesn’t have a clue about how to get this country working again.”
By consistently denigrating the Obama administration’s economic policies, and not the President himself, Romney has shrewdly refrained from using personal attacks to garner support. Instead, by focusing exclusively on his experiences in the private sector as a job creator, his knowledge of economics is already beginning to draw voters.
But politics, history tells us, is a fickle business. This was, after all, only the first of five scheduled debates that will ultimately shape who wins the Republican nomination. But unlike the 2008 primary, Mitt Romney has placed himself in a position to court independent and moderate primary-goers, especially those worried about America’s economic future and leery of backing a Tea Party candidate.
But one question remains: can he beat President Obama in the general election?
I believe he can, but the primary will be his greatest challenge. While he has the qualities of a great president, he cannot avoid his history of flip-flopping on key issues nor deny the series of legislative blunders he made as governor. In short, he has his work cut out for him.
But, after watching him debate Wednesday night, he certainly has made a favorable impression. And at this point in time, that's what really matters.