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Romney's challenge

Editorial

With Rick Santorum out of the race, the apparent GOP nominee should outline his vision for America.

April 11, 2012
  • Mitt Romney holds a town hall-style campaign event at RC Fabricators in Wilmington, Delaware.
Mitt Romney holds a town hall-style campaign event at RC Fabricators in… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum unexpectedly ended his quest for the presidency Tuesday, all but ensuring that Mitt Romney will claim the GOP nomination. But with two other Republicans still in the race, Romney and his "super PAC" allies may be tempted to keep doing what they have been throughout the primary campaign: barrage his opponents with attack ads and pander to the most conservative elements of the party. We hope Romney will instead address the shortcoming that Santorum's shoestring campaign drew attention to — the lingering questions about what Romney really stands for. And in so doing, he needs to prove that he's not as far outside the American mainstream as some of the stances he's taken in the primaries suggest.

Santorum's announcement was a sharp turnabout from last week, when he declared that the race was merely at its halfway point and promised to stay in it. In a message posted online Tuesday, he said he'd concluded over the weekend that there was no practical way to prevent Romney from wrapping up the nomination. His withdrawal seems to have persuaded former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to recommit himself to the race, despite Romney's prohibitive lead. Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) continues to stump on college campuses as his followers concoct plans to win delegates at state conventions.

These rivals may lead Romney to keep positioning himself as "severely conservative," as he put it in a speech to activists in February. And that's an apt description of some of the needlessly extreme positions he has taken during the campaign, including his calls for all undocumented immigrants to "self-deport" and for the United States to start a trade war with China and potentially a shooting war with Iran.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

But many Republicans don't believe Romney, and they've flirted with a series of other candidates with clearer histories of conservatism, particularly on social issues. Romney's problem is not just that some of the positions he's taken belie his background (such as his efforts to repudiate his own work on healthcare reform); it's that he has yet to articulate a coherent and compelling vision for the country he wants to lead. He needs to do that, and soon. But in the process, he should stop seeking to prove his conservative bona fides and try instead to demonstrate to Americans of all political stripes that he's the right leader on the economic and fiscal issues that matter most to them.

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