Two weeks from today, Florida Republicans have an opportunity to effectively end a disappointing presidential primary season and focus the nation on a pivotal general election. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the winner of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, is the candidate best prepared to make the Republicans’ case that change is needed in the White House.
The Republican Party is experiencing an identity crisis as fiscally conservative, socially moderate voices are too often shouted down by the more extreme tea party activists and social conservatives. That explains much of the ambivalence about Romney as Republicans flirted with momentary flashes such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. The maneuvering before South Carolina’s primary on Saturday offers another opportunity for candidates to appeal to the most conservative elements of the party. It will be up to Florida Republicans to steer a course that could attract independent voters seeking an alternative to President Barack Obama in November.
Romney has a breadth of experience and a record of pragmatism that makes him the most viable Republican candidate. He has considerable business experience from his 15 years as head of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that has ironically become a target for his Republican opponents who otherwise champion free enterprise. There should continue to be a healthy debate about Bain’s record under Romney, including the successes and failures of companies it invested in. There also is plenty of room for argument and further examination of Bain’s record of creating and eliminating jobs. But there is no disagreement that Bain also made handsome profits for its investors, and for better or worse, that private sector experience sets Romney apart from his opponents.
After running Bain, Romney salvaged the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. By all accounts, the Games were under an ethical cloud and in deep financial trouble when he became head of the organizing committee. Romney turned it around and became the face of those Olympics, raising tens of millions from new sponsors and the federal government, and turning what could have been an embarrassment into a civic success. That experience reflects Romney’s ability to surround himself with talent, transform bureaucracies and build public support.