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The Perfect Candidate Isn’t Running

In today’s Wall Street Journal, the editorial page looks over the field of Republican presidential candidates and finds them all wanting. The Journal’s editors analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three viable candidates remaining and worry whether any of them can unite the party and articulate policies that will put forward an agenda for growth and restraint of federal spending. They conclude saying that “if the current field isn’t up to that, perhaps someone still off the field will step in and run. Now would be the time.”

While the Journal is pretty much on target with all of its criticisms of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, conservatives who cling to the illusion someone better than these three will miraculously jump in from the sidelines are kidding themselves. The Republican nominee who will face off against Barack Obama in November 2012 will be named either Bachmann, Perry or Romney and whether they like it or not, those who believe the president ought not to be re-elected are going to have to make a choice among them.

The Journal is especially critical of Bachmann whom they accuse of opportunism for failing to enthusiastically back Paul Ryan’s budget proposal and of spinning fantasies during the course of her opposition to any compromise proposal (including those put forward by her own party), during the debt ceiling crisis. While the editors noted her propensity for gaffes that will make her a hard sell outside of those they describe as members of “Fox Nation,” their most serious accusation is she is an inexperienced ideologue who is, in effect, a conservative version of Barack Obama.

The editorial is less critical of Perry, whose experience as governor of Texas they praise. But they worry his “Lone Star swagger” will make it difficult to win over independents. They also see his “muscular religiosity” as a potential problem.

As for Mitt Romney, the Journal doesn’t so much criticize him as dismiss him. He is described as “weak” and a man who has provided “little evidence that he has convictions beyond faith in his own technocratic expertise.” Ouch.

All this may be true, but the Journal’s desire to seek a viable Republican alternative to the trio is just as much a fantasy as Michele Bachmann’s belief the S&P credit downgrade vindicated her refusal to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Though it is theoretically possible for someone like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio or Chris Christie (the trio of GOP heavy hitters who the Journal and likeminded conservatives still wish would run for president) to still get in, at this point it would be difficult if not impossible to do so successfully. And that is leaving aside the fact none of those three seem to want to run.

The time for dreaming about the perfect candidate is over. Even if such a person existed, they aren’t running. Bachmann, Perry and Romney all have drawbacks that might, under other circumstances, make it hard to imagine them being nominated, let alone elected president. Yet one of them will be nominated next year, and that person will, depending on the state of the economy, have a good chance of taking the oath in January 2013. Conservatives have a tough choice to make in the coming months. But choose they must.