'National Review' backs Romney

The editors of National Review have endorsed Mitt Romney. The editorial suggests that John McCain was the runner-up, that Fred Thompson scored an incomplete and that Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee were disqualified for their lack of conservative orthodoxy on key issues. Excerpts:

Each of the men running for the Republican nomination has strengths, and none has everything -- all the traits, all the positions -- we are looking for. Equally conservative analysts can reach, and have reached, different judgments in this matter. . . . Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney. . . . Romney is a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest. . . .

Rudolph Giuliani did extraordinary work as mayor of New York and was inspirational on 9/11. But he and Mike Huckabee would pull apart the coalition from opposite ends: Giuliani alienating the social conservatives, and Huckabee the economic (and foreign-policy) conservatives. . . . Two other major candidates would be able to keep the coalition together, but have drawbacks of their own. John McCain is not as conservative as Romney. He sponsored and still champions a campaign-finance law that impinged on fundamental rights of political speech; he voted against the Bush tax cuts; he supported this year's amnesty bill, although he now says he understands the need to control the border before doing anything else. Despite all that and more, he is a hero with a record that is far more good than bad. He has been a strong and farsighted supporter of the Iraq War, and, in a trying political season for him, he has preserved and even enhanced his reputation for dignity and seriousness. There would be worse nominees for the GOP (see above). But McCain ran an ineffectual campaign for most of the year and is still paying for it. Fred Thompson is as conservative as Romney, and has distinguished himself with serious proposals on Social Security, immigration, and defense. But Thompson has never run any large enterprise -- and he has not run his campaign well, either. Conservatives were excited this spring to hear that he might enter the race, but have been disappointed by the reality. He has been fading in crucial early states. He has not yet passed the threshold test of establishing for voters that he truly wants to be president. . . .

It is true that [Romney] has less foreign-policy experience than Thompson and (especially) McCain, but he has more executive experience than both. Since almost all of the candidates have the same foreign-policy principles, what matters most is which candidate has the skills to execute that vision. . . . More than the other primary candidates, Romney has President Bush's virtues and avoids his flaws. His moral positions, and his instincts on taxes and foreign policy, are the same. But he is less inclined to federal activism, less tolerant of overspending, better able to defend conservative positions in debate, and more likely to demand performance from his subordinates. A winning combination, by our lights.

UPDATE: Based on my own reading of National Review, I can't say I'm surprised by the editors' choice of Romney. But it's nonetheless striking that in the first contested Republican primary after 9/11 -- and while we remain at war -- NR's editors decided foreign policy experience was not a prerequisite. (See, by contrast, the Union Leader.) Who would have guessed that NR's endorsement would mention the word "Iraq" once (in the section on McCain!) and the words "Iran," "Islam" and "terrorist" (or variations thereof) not at all? The NR editors assure their readers that Romney believes in a foreign policy "based on the national interest" and, though noting his lack of foreign policy experience, give him a pass because "since almost all of the candidates have the same foreign-policy principles, what matters most is which candidate has the skills to execute that vision." I'm very eager to see whether McCain, Thompson and Giuliani let that go without rebuttal.