Republican ideology missing in several conservative candidates

Republican voters are having a hard time settling on presidential candidates, now that the party has three separate winners after its first three major primaries.

In Michigan on Tuesday, Republican Mitt Romney salvaged his political campaign, which had been withering following losses in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Arizona Sen. John McCain failed to attract the significant numbers of Independent voters that are the heart of his campaign.

Rudy Giuliani, who not long ago was viewed as the presumptive nominee, received less than 3 percent of the vote — a small number even though he basically declined to campaign there.

Fred Thompson, who was also once viewed as a formidable candidate, received only 4 percent.

Giuliani and Thompson were beaten by libertarian candidate Ron Paul, proving that Paul is less of a fringe candidate than mainstream Republicans would have us believe.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor with a religious right message and populist economics, came in a distant third, but heads into South Carolina, with its large base of evangelical voters, as the favorite.

Michigan is one of the most depressed states, caused by the nation’s long-term decline in rust-belt industries and a Democratic governor who has imposed tax increases on an already struggling economy. Romney offered an optimistic message as he promised that his managerial skills could bring back high-paying automotive jobs. That appealed to Republican voters, rather than McCain’s “straight talk” that such jobs would never come back.

McCain probably is right on that point, although his promises of government retraining programs aren’t too realistic, either.

Romney is now emerging as the “economic” candidate, although his native-son status (he was born in Michigan, where his Dad was governor) and deep pockets might offer the best explanations for his win.

For an economic candidate, it’s hard to understand what Romney is saying. As Jerry Taylor of the libertarian Cato Institute wrote, “What does it say about the Republican Party when the leading fusionist conservative in the field — Mitt Romney, darling of National Review and erstwhile heir to Ronald Reagan — runs and wins a campaign arguing that the federal government is responsible for all of the ills facing the U.S. auto industry, that the taxpayer should pony up the corporate welfare checks going to Detroit and increase them by a factor of five, that the federal government can and should move heaven and earth to save ‘every job’ at risk in this economy …?”

In fact, none of the Republican candidates save for Paul and Thompson offer anything resembling free-market conservatism.

McCain, with the First Amendment-stifling campaign-finance law, and Giuliani, with his zeal for police-state-style anti-terrorism measures, are hostile to limited government.

Huckabee’s economics would be more at home in the Democratic Party.

Perhaps there’s a good reason Republican voters are having a hard time settling on a front runner.