This post is not a comprehensive review of all declared candidates; rather, it is of the six major candidates who remain: Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, Romney, and Santorum. I will comment at least briefly on each, but I may as well make this clear up front--I have considered myself a Perry supporter since he jumped in, and intend to continue to support him as long as he is a candidate. I will make my reasons for this clear in my comments. I will not say I endorse Perry, because I don't have sufficient influence for it to matter, but if I did, I would.
Huntsman: I have not conversed with any registered Republican who has any enthusiasm for him. I've heard plenty of avowed liberals tout him as the best candidate in the field, though. I do not think Huntsman is a particularly good GOP candidate, though his record is fairly decent and he has been blasted unfairly for having been Obama's choice for ambassador for China. The man has no real charisma for me, and I have yet to hear him articulate a meaningful vision for how he will get this country back in order. To me, he is an also-ran and should drop out.
Paul: I believe he is dangerously naive in his views of foreign policy. As I understand him, he would overturn the entirety of American foreign policy going back to Monroe, enacting an isolationist doctrine. I cannot support this philosophy even in the abstract, and definitely not when taking the particulars of the current world political environment into consideration. Given that I believe in a moral authority and duty to remain a superpower and force for good in the world, this disqualifies Paul for me. There is also the questionable (to put it politely) views he shows towards Israel, the seeming lack of discomfort he feels with being supported by white supremicist groups, and the newsletters he claims to have no knowledge of despite his name appearing on them and the income he derived from them. I do appreciate many of his ideas to limit federal power and reform the domestic agenda, but being this is 2012 and not 1796, we need someone with plans for dealing with problems both domestic and foreign.
Gingrich: Newt has several problems. First, his personal life and scandals--the GOP does not get a free pass on dubious moral behavior the way a Democratic candidate does. Second, his legislative history is somewhat checkered--he failed to push his advantage as Speaker as far as he should have. He did help push through meaningful reform of welfare, and there were budget surpluses under his leadership, but in both cases he likely could have extracted even more from Clinton. His immigration policy is awfully lenient and sounds a lot like amnesty to me, without solving the border problem first. All this aside, however, he understands the need for a pro-active foreign policy, he has some ideas for attacking entitlements (though spit the bit with attacking Paul Ryan's plan), and he's not afraid to call out Obama or the media for their mistakes. I can support him to some degree, but I'm not convinced enough of the American public would, especially with months of non-stop media attacks.
Santorum: Excellent social credentials, but weak on fiscal matters. He was destroyed in his home state in his last election, which doesn't speak well for his chances nationally. He has shown new viability in the past month, but it is not clear to me he can win the primary, yet alone the national election. I am not enough of an accountant to determine if his tax policies will work or not, and while I am ignorant of his specific plans for entitlement reform; his record is one of someone who will make changes, but is also unwilling to cause too much pain as he is compassionate in the modern political sense. I can support him more strongly than Gingrich, but he would not be my first choice.
Romney: The perpetual candidate, Mitt is complex. Despite campaigning for essentially 6 years, he cannot crack even 30% support in his own party. There is little doubt that he has benefitted from the large number of candidates, dividing the opposition against him. He was quite successful in the business world before becoming a politician, however it is questionable if that experience is as useful as it might have been had he built a company from the ground up instead of gutting failing companies and selling the parts for profit. True, he has turned some companies around, but it's not as if he can sell off a third of the states to make the rest of the country more economically sound. His policies and views seem quite opportunistic and prone to change; but the image he projects is one who does so out of expediency rather than a genuine conversion to a new point of view. He is the moderate Republican equivalent of John Kerry, only without the unseembly sanctimonious attitude. He has shown an awfully thin skin when challenged or called out, whether the charges are legitimate or not. Most damning of all is the gruesome abomination known as Romneycare. If Pawlenty had used the opportunity in the early debates to press the attack on Obamneycare, he might have crippled Romney's campaign months ago. Instead, if nominated Romney will automatically cede away the ability to attack Obama's signature legislation, an incredibly unpopular and ill-conceived bundle of statutes that, unlike the economy (which Obama does own now, although quite a few of the problems predate him), could be easily and wholly hung around Obama's neck without reservation by almost any other candidate. I am not convinced that the "anyone but Obama" mandate is strong enough to rally sufficient voters to win an election, and if Romney's expected electability is a myth, he is at best a fall-back candidate instead of the proper standard-bearer.
Perry: A victim of multiple gaffes and unrealistic expectations when he first entered the campaign. It is questionable if the strains of recent surgery and the wildfire outbreak in Texas distracted him and contributed to his poor early performances. However, poor they were, and he did not rally quickly. Whether this was lack of preparing, or unfamiliarity with how things changed on a national scale, is also debatable, but the reality is it hurt him severely. He also harps on quixotic issues at times, like the part-time Congress--a plan I support, but hardly a major talking point at this stage in the game. By most accounts he has strengthened his debate performances recently, though it may be too late. In terms of policies, the two big knocks against him are Gardasil and the Texas Dream Act. From my perspective, Gardasil is a non-issue, and Perry has expressed he would change his approach if he had it to do over. The Texas Dream Act on the surface seems antithetical to border security, but it reflects the reality that the federal government did not secure the border, and contributing illegal aliens are better than those who simply absorb resources. On the other hand, Perry did use significant state resources to try to limit illegal immigration, and has articulated a realistic, workable plan to protect the border instead of the symbolic but mostly ineffective physical fence. He has made calls to actually reduce the size of the government, which only Reagan had ever done before. He has proposed simplification of the tax code, slicing the budget, and has a firm grasp of the ugly nature of world affairs and the need for an active role in them. Perry's record in Texas is one of creating jobs, of fighting tough but fair with the opposition and winning support when needed, and of winning charged, tightly contested elections. He is not the perfect candidate, but Ronald Reagan is not rising from the grave to run for a third term, and Perry is the closest thing to the Gipper that we will see this election cycle. That is why I support him.