Mitt Romney is the Republican with the best chance of winning the White House in November. But the best reason to vote for him in Saturday's South Carolina primary is this:
He's the best candidate for the job.
The former Massachusetts governor has an impressive record, in and out of public office. His extensive background, steady temperament and sense of purpose make him the right GOP choice for the crucial task of leading our nation out of tough times and virtual political gridlock.
At this point in Barack Obama's presidency, it is sadly clear that he has pushed our nation too far to the left -- and as a direct consequence, far too deeply into record debt. Mr. Romney is a proven fiscal conservative with the ability and resolve required to correct that wayward course. He also has ample experience in forging productive compromises across party lines.
Like presidential predecessor George W. Bush, Mr. Obama pledged to advance bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems. Unfortunately, neither man fared very well on that score.
Why would Mr. Romney do any better?
He has ample experience from 2003-2007 as the Republican governor of a state with a legislature overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats -- and very liberal ones at that, unlike the moderate Democrats with whom Mr. Bush often found common ground as governor of Texas.
"I could do nothing without a collaborative relationship with the leaders of the House and Senate," Mr. Romney said of his governorship in an interview this week at The Post and Courier.
Yet much good conservative work was done on his watch: restructuring and streamlining of state government, the elimination of a $3 billion deficit and the addition of $2 billion to a "rainy day" fund, and reducing red tape for small businesses -- all without raising taxes or adding to state debt.
That doesn't mean Gov. Romney was a pushover. He issued more than 800 vetoes.
He also championed a sweeping health care reform law, now derisively dubbed "Romneycare" and the object of predictable skepticism from the right. But Mr. Romney insists that he plans to "repeal Obamacare immediately" by enlisting congressional support. Failing that, he said he would grant waivers "to South Carolina and every other state" in order to "stop Obamacare in its tracks."
He pointed out that unlike the Massachusetts plan, Obamacare imposes huge tax hikes and major cuts in Medicare funding. He added that while a majority of Americans opposed the federal plan, Massachusetts residents still favor Romneycare by a 3-to-1 margin.
Even in that state plan, Mr. Romney stressed the private, not the public sector. He wants the U.S. to "remain an opportunity society" rather than continuing its slide toward a European-style "entitlement society." He presents a compelling distinction between his basic free-market vision and President Obama's big-government philosophy.
Mr. Romney, however, insists that the U.S. must be willing to pay the price to remain the world's top military power. He rightly asserts that deterrence is better than war, and that a strong military provides the best counter to the nation's enemies.
As for countering the rising threat to the fiscal future of the U.S., which has for the first time lost its top credit rating from Standard and Poor's , Mr. Romney has valuable insights from his service not just as a state chief executive but as the founder and CEO of Bain Capital. The GOP rivals who criticize his accomplished leadership of that investment/management firm should know better. Mr. Romney's knowledge of how profits and jobs are created -- and lost -- would serve the nation's economy well in the White House.
Now, though, he should show his political savvy by releasing his tax records as soon as possible. Voters would be foolish to fault him for his financial success. They also should understand why long-term capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than regular income: to provide an indispensable incentive for long-term investment.
Mr. Romney's GOP rivals again targeted him at Thursday night's debate at the North Charleston Coliseum. After all, he's the front-runner.
He also is the Republican best equipped to win a defining debate about America's future with President Obama. As Mr. Romney told us: "I will look forward to debating him and saying, 'Which of your provisions do you think encouraged people to hire? Do you think Obamacare encouraged private enterprise to hire? Do you think Dodd-Frank encouraged banks to make loans? ... Do you think the Boeing decision in South Carolina encouraged businesses to expand? Do you think stacking the NLRB with labor stooges encourages businesses to hire people?' "
We look forward to seeing Mr. Romney pose those key questions. We also look forward to moving beyond the hard feelings of our primary, with its glut of PAC-funded negative ads and intrusive "robo-calls," back to the pressing challenges that should be the basis for the electorate's presidential choice not just on Saturday but on Nov. 6.
As Mr. Romney put it during Thursday night's debate after CNN moderator John King opened with a question about Newt Gingrich's second marriage: "John, let's get on to the real issues -- that's all I've got to say."
Mr. Romney later came on strong with this debate declaration: "Ours is the party of free enterprise, freedom, markets, consumer choice. Theirs is the party of government knowledge, government domination, where Barack Obama believes that he knows better for the American people what's best for them. He's wrong. We're right. That's why we're going to win."
Mitt Romney's combination of skills, experience and commitment make him the right man at the right time to be president.
And Saturday is the right time for South Carolina to boost him closer to that goal.