I'm looking for two chief things in a candidate for 2012:
The temperament, judgment, deftness and largeness of spirit required in the presidential office; and the creativity and intellect to respond to the global economic crisis -- a crisis threatening to actually get worse if (or when) the euro implodes.
Those conditions obviously and categorically exclude the clownish Herman Cain, the daffy Ron Paul, the dim Rick Perry and the firebrand congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
A step up from those four is former U.S. senator Rick Santorum. Santorum, who is the only candidate in the race to talk about the stagnation of wages and the slowing of upward mobility in the United States. Unfortunately, Santorum -- a fierce social conservative -- speaks for too narrow a slice of modern America. Santorum has also never held any administrative responsibility. It's not enough for a president to say "do this" or "do that." Issuing the orders is the easy part. The president must ensure that "this" and "that" actually happen. If you have never had such a responsibility before, the White House is a bad place to learn -- as President Obama (who also lacked any prior administrative experience) proves on a daily basis.
The Republican flavour of the month, Newt Gingrich, likewise flunks condition one. As Speaker of the House, Gingrich was notorious for his indiscipline. Where he does excel is in the use of rhetoric to divide and provoke. Take, for example, his musing last September in front of reporters: "What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behaviour, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? ... That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behaviour."
Back in the 1990s, Gingrich made himself one of the most disliked figures in the recent history of American politics. As American political commentator Jay Cost reminds us, within 24 months of becoming Speaker, Gingrich had forced a shutdown of the federal government and sunk to an approve/disapprove rating of negative 25. There Gingrich languished through ethics challenges, impeachment and the revelation that he'd been carrying on an extra-marital affair while attacking Bill Clinton's own sexual misconduct.
A Gingrich presidency, if such a thing can even be imagined, would be a chaotic catastrophe. A Gingrich nomination would yield an Obama landslide.
So that leaves us with the two governors, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Romney has the better record as an administrator. I still think that his Massachusetts health-care plan showed creative leadership on an important problem -- even if he himself now declines to defend his own accomplishment.
Romney has spoken well and firmly about the need to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program. He has a keen understanding of the debt and financial problems of the U.S. and Europe.
This blog originally appeared on the National Post.
Follow David Frum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@davidfrum