Voters go to the polls next month to begin choosing a candidate who can put America back to work, and that means preventing Barack Obama from winning a second term.
But the Republican and GOP-leaning electorate has been deeply divided over the past year about who that candidate should be, with its conservative base switching almost monthly from one presidential hopeful to another in search of a contender who will carry its banner and fulfill its hopes and aspirations.
Here are some of the overriding qualifications to look for in a candidate who can do that:
c Rule out anyone who is not making the persistently weak, jobless Obama economy the No. 1 issue in 2012. Countless national polls over the past three years of this administration show that no other issue comes even close.
Any candidate who isn't tirelessly and angrily pounding this issue in every speech isn't addressing our country's biggest problem. Lots of other issues are important, including our government's mushrooming debt, but an economically weak America threatens our national security as a major power in an increasingly dangerous world.
The candidate must not just address this issue, but set forth an agenda to unleash the capital investment, market expansion and job-creating reforms that are needed to put tens of millions of Americans back to work: a growth agenda that calls for permanently lowering tax rates on businesses, investors and workers alike; terminating costly job-killing regulations; and expanding our export markets around the world.
c No qualification is more critical in this weak economic environment than high-level executive experience, preferably in both the private and public sectors.
We've experimented with President Obama's attempts to spend ourselves out of America's Great Recession, and he has demonstrated clearly that he's in over his head, that he does not understand what creates jobs.
His tissue-paper-thin resume as a community organizer and a state senator of no accomplishment, with a year or so of working in the U.S. Senate, doesn't come close to the experience standard needed to run the largest economic power in the world.
In the modern era, we've looked to governors, who have run state governments: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan come to mind, among others.
There's a reason why we don't elect House members to the presidency, especially those who never have held any leadership roles. That would be virtually comparable to promoting someone in the mailroom to CEO.
It helps to have run a state where you've balanced the budget, engaged a willful legislature in the give-and-take of statecraft and built a record of legislative accomplishment.
c A qualified presidential candidate should be fully and exhaustively vetted by the voters - and not just in a single election cycle. Republicans have a habit of making most of their nominees run through the campaign spin cycle at least twice before nominating them for the job. Reagan tried three times before he was ready.
Shaking off defeat and trying again shows persistence and old-fashioned determination and ambition.
Winning the presidency shouldn't be easy, and the four-year political gantlet and 50-state primary contests, even before the general election begins, are deliberately set up to weed out the weakest candidates.
c Look at the candidate's top advisers, the people who have endorsed him, and the caliber of those who run the campaign's operations. If the campaign is badly run, over budget and in debt, the candidate's presidency will be, too.
Does the candidate have an inner circle of high-level advisers who are governors or former governors, people who have served in high office and know what they're doing? If not, that's a sign of a candidate who is not taken seriously at the highest levels of his or her party.
Reagan sought out men of broad accomplishment in politics, government and the business world, from George P. Shultz to free-market economist Milton Friedman, Caspar Weinberger and domestic policy adviser Martin Anderson.
Most of the Republicans running now have no really heavy hitters in their inner circles. Their tiny organizations would face challenges in a statewide race, let alone the nationwide campaign that faces each of them. Not a good sign.
c And let's not forget the importance of temperament. Is the candidate disciplined and steady through the volatile ups and downs of political primary battles? Does he stick to the game plan and stay focused on the issues that matter to the voters, no matter what the distractions and political sideshows may be?
Eventually, all campaigns have to deal with incoming fire that can rattle the inexperienced candidate and throw him off-message. That's when voters want to see signs of the candidate's true character and inner convictions, exuding confidence and leadership
The economic and national security challenges that will confront our country in the immediate years ahead will mark a time of great trial, not for the faint of heart. This will be no time for on-the-job training. We've been witnesses to that for the past three years.
Economic growth is crawling at a feeble 1.5 percent. Unemployment is expected to be closer to 9 percent throughout 2012. Add underemployment, and we are approaching 20 percent.
The government is groaning under the weight of a $15.1 trillion national debt - $1 trillion higher than it was just one year ago. It will grow another $1 trillion by the end of next year.
Tackling these problems will take not only great political courage but real executive experience as well, from someone who has done this before, someone who is not afraid to enter the arena and fight for his country and for what he believes.
The decision-making begins in Iowa on Tuesday.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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