Paul Greenberg

"Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security but is committed to saving Social Security. I will be sure that we keep the program (but) make it financially secure."

It was as if Mitt Romney were already campaigning in the general election rather than the primaries -- and keeping his eye on the prize: all those independent voters and wavering, disillusioned Democrats out there. In the primaries, his party will face a choice between tickling its own ideological fancies or nominating a candidate who can seize the middle ground of American politics -- and victory with it.

It's the kind of choice that goes back at least to 1952 and the Taft-Eisenhower battle for the Republican presidential nomination that fateful year. The GOP can choose a candidate who will talk sense to the American people or one who'll go wandering off into the ideological wasteland populated by the Ron Pauls of the country.

This evening Congressman Paul came out against fencing off the border not because it might keep foreigners out but because it might keep Americans in, preventing us from emigrating with our life savings in hand in some kind of doomsday scenario. Ron Paul never sounded more like Ron Paul, that is, strange.

At their more ideological moments, the leading anti-Romneys on that stage in California, the Rick Perrys and Michelle Bachmanns, bring to mind Whittaker Chambers' warning back in the 1950s:

"If the Republican Party cannot get some grip of the actual world we live in and from it generalize and actively promote a program that means something to the masses of people -- why, somebody else will. Then there will be nothing to argue. The voters will simply vote Republicans into singularity. The Republican Party will become like one of those dark little shops which apparently never sell anything. If, for any reason, you go in, you find at the back an old man, fingering for his own pleasure some oddments of cloth. Nobody wants to buy them, which is fine because the old man is not really interested in selling. He just likes to hold and to feel."

The past may belong to the Ron Pauls in the Republican Party, but it's hard to believe the future does.

Despite all the campaign foofaraw every four years, Americans remain above all a practical-minded people. The American voter wants ideas that work in the real world. The big problem with Obamanomics is that it doesn't. Why go for an opposite-but-equal kind of politics that's also based more on ideology than reality?

It's hard to believe any of the ideologues in the Republican Party will win out if the voters can choose a practical-minded alternative. Like Mitt Romney.

It's a long, long way to November of 2012. But at this point the GOP's best chance next year would seem to lie with a uniter, not a divider. And so does America's.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.