Facing an uphill battle in the November elections, Republicans need to nominate a presidential candidate who represents the best traditions of the Grand Old Party: fiscal responsibility, devotion to national security and honest conduct of the nation's business.
Republican voters should consider themselves lucky. They have two candidates highly qualified to occupy the Oval Office: John McCain and Mitt Romney, two principled political figures who could chart a new course for our country and lead it forward with honor.
In a close call, our endorsement goes to McCain, a war hero, experienced player in the U.S. Senate and Washington politics, a principled conservative and a leader with an extra something -- that crucial capacity to stir our souls.
If the GOP's chances in November don't look so good these days, they certainly don't look any worse than McCain's own hopes of securing the GOP nomination just a few months ago. His campaign bank account empty, forced to lay off staff and dismissed as a viable contender, McCain soldiered on against the odds and now appears poised to capture the party's nomination.
His character, political courage and grasp of the crucial issues facing the country guarantee that McCain can energize Republicans and capture the independent voters the GOP will need to retain the White House in the face of the low poll numbers of President Bush.
No one can read his account of the cruel years of torture and solitary confinement in the Hanoi Hilton without feeling a lump in the throat. He never broke.
And anyone who reads his memoir, Faith of My Fathers, understands the foundation on which McCain built a reputation as a politician of the highest ethical standards not afraid to defend unpopular positions and fight for what he believes in. He clung to his belief that the U.S. should increase the troop commitment in Iraq, which caused his early lead to evaporate, and most thought would kill his chances to be president.
McCain is a free thinker who judges each issue on its merits, not on its political implications.
Like the GOP base, McCain understands -- in a way Republicans feel that the Democrats fail to comprehend -- that America faces an implacable enemy in Islamist fanaticism. He articulates eloquently the conservative belief that the consequences of defeat in Iraq would be crippling to the U.S. military's morale, damaging to national security and a signal victory for America's enemies. Like the GOP base, he believes that it wasn't the invasion of Iraq that was a mistake, it was the misguided strategy that didn't put enough boots on the ground. Continued success in the surge will enable McCain to make that argument persuasively to war-weary American voters.
On domestic issues, McCain adheres to Republican orthodoxy that cutting taxes, government spending and regulatory red tape are necessary to preserving a strong economy. McCain risked political suicide last year to promote, unsuccessfully, a reasonable and humane immigration reform package, which included border security provisions, along with a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.
McCain now says he knows America wants border security first. But he has not hedged on his commitment to treat illegal immigrants with compassion. It may be unpopular in some conservative circles, but immigration reform is of vital interest to traditional Republican allies in business.
While boasting core Republican credentials, McCain also has proved that he can reach out to Democrats and work cooperatively toward meaningful solutions -- a trait in rare supply in today's deeply divided capital.
McCain has also been a consistent and loud voice against pork-barrel spending, he is in favor of campaign finance reform, and he has warned about the risks of global warming.
If he is nominated, as we expect he will be, McCain should make Romney America's No. 2 Republican. Given McCain's advanced age, a vice presidential choice has never been more important. A man of impeccable personal integrity, Romney has amassed an enviable record of accomplishment in the business world, public service and elective office. He built a lucrative venture capital and investment business, valuable experience for a White House faced with today's economic insecurities.
He raised the Olympics in Utah from the ashes and led them to a successful conclusion. And as governor of Massachusetts, one of the nation's bluest states, Romney demonstrated how a Republican leader could work with a Democratic legislature to promote economic growth and tackle a complex issue such as expanding health care. Romney has excelled in everything he has done.
But it is McCain we want to see at the top of the ticket. The Democrats are promising the voters what Republicans see as a simplistic and defeatist way out of Iraq -- just withdraw the troops. Straight-talking McCain sees different realities and declares, "The American people deserve to know that the path ahead will be long and difficult."
Admittedly that may be a hard sale in an election year. But it's what Republicans believe, and in McCain they have the standard bearer who can carry that message to the nation and who stands the best chance of convincing Americans that a Republican president needs to lead the nation in seeing Iraq through to a successful end.
Republicans are hungering for a thoughtful Republican who knows how to get things done. That is evidenced by McCain's wins in states as diverse as New Hampshire, South Carolina and now Florida, where only registered Republicans could vote.
Cast a ballot for John McCain. Cast a ballot that counts.