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With Daniels Out, GOP’s Best Bet Is ...

About a year ago, I thought a Daniels-Ryan GOP ticket for the 2012 presidential race would have been ideal. Alas, Gov. Mitch Daniels is not running for the presidency. Neither is Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, John Thune, or Jim DeMint. Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Jeb Bush probably won’t run either. Paul Ryan would still make a good VP choice, but he isn’t running for president.

Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and Rick Santorum are all “dark horse” candidates. They stand little chance. Jon Huntsman is too liberal (and was in the Obama administration). Newt Gingrich’s campaign is already in trouble. Sarah Palin, I think, knows this isn’t her time.

That leaves Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. Lame, I know. But Pawlenty’s lamer. Against President Obama, I will take Mitt Romney. Furthermore, Romney’s running mate should be Rep. Allen West. Romney-West 2012 would be very formidable. Let’s start with Romney.

We know Romney’s downfalls. He’s Ward Cleaver. Too clean. He’s “inauthentic,” an “establishment” politician. That’s unpopular these days. GOP primary voters want someone real, someone outside of politics; a self-made citizen reluctantly running for public office to save the day. Romney, on the other hand, has been running for president for six years. Then there is Romney’s health care bill which he passed in Massachusetts as governor.  President Obama loves to thank and jibe Romney for setting the example on health care reform. It makes Obama’s awful health insurance law look moderate and undermines conservative criticism of it.

All this and more is true. But consider Romney’s strengths. He’s well known. He’s electable. He polls well against Obama. He looks and acts “presidential” (whatever that means). He’s been a governor of a state, an executive in the private sector, and he ran the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. He’s disciplined, articulate, and well-versed in domestic and foreign policy. Romney will be quick to hit Obama on jobs and the economy, on the debt and deficit. When Obama holds Osama bin Laden’s scalp in front of the cameras, Romney won’t hesitate to say, “Yes, Mr. President. Good job. Now let’s talk about how the intelligence that was used for the operation was gathered.”

With Daniels out, Romney’s the frontrunner. And yet he doesn’t seem to be preferred by much of anyone. He can fix that a number of ways. First, he ought to “go big” on foreign policy. Libya, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel, China –– these are the issues, yes. But the big issue is our standing in the world. Obama has made it weaker. Romney ought to go big on domestic issues, as well. Unemployment and taxes are a problem. But entitlement insolvency is the heart of the matter. Fiscal issues are a worry. But monetary issues are paramount. Will someone other than Ron Paul ever speak about monetary policy? The opening for Romney is there to seize.

On health care and other issues, he must prove to conservatives that they will be able to hold a President Romney’s feet to the fire. Romney must clarify and champion his newfound federalism. He must promise to repeal ObamaCare. Period. He must seek to win over some of the libertarian-wing of the Republican Party with a sincere defense of states’ rights. That means getting with the times and not being an obstinate idiot about the drug war. That means respecting the Tenth Amendment.

Additionally, if nominated, Romney must pick a running mate who will please conservatives.  That someone is Rep. Allen West.

Sure, West is only a first-term congressman. But Americans want an outsider, a Mr. Smith-goes-to-Washington kind of guy. Allen West is just that. He’s a retired Army lieutenant colonel, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, with as sharp of a mind as there is in Congress. He’s a conservative’s conservative; a tea-party favorite. But he cannot be smeared as a radical kook. He’s from swing state Florida — and Florida, remarkably, has never had a candidate on a national ticket. West is also black (not that it matters, but to some, it does). Far from the liberal caricature, we live in a country where that is, by far, a net gain — especially for a black conservative.

Allen West speaks with authority like nobody else in politics. Sometimes his rhetoric on his military service can be self-congratulatory, almost Pattonesque. And that’s slightly cliché in some corners of 2011 America. But it’s not insincere. One listens to him speak and it is evident that they are listening to a leader. West is a man for these times.

Most interestingly — and importantly, to me — West understands the true nature of the Islamist adversary and has not bought into the “cult of counterinsurgency” when it comes to military operations.  “We have to get away from occupation, nation-building style warfare,” he said last November.  Yes!

And listen to him speak on the enemy. They are not perverting their holy texts, he insists. They are heeding them. More yes! Politically incorrect, no doubt. But true, unafraid, and rooted in reality. Allen West is one of the few politicians in the country who has challenged the Council on American-Islamic Relations for its ties to terrorism. He understands the full scope and scale of the fight ahead. But with that in mind, he is nevertheless committed to avoiding attritional, unending, unwinnable wars.

Romney-West can stand toe-to-toe with Obama-Biden in the debates, on foreign and economic policy, on substance, on style, and with the general electorate. With the 24-hour news cycle and viral video exposure, vice presidential running mates matter more nowadays. They don’t come much better than Allen West. Romney, the electable-establishment candidate, and West, the tea-party war-vet rock star, complement each other very well.  Together, they would be the toughest GOP ticket to beat in the 2012 election.