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The Reagan in Mitt Romney
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The late William F. Buckley Jr. naturally put it best when he said: “The wisest choice would be the one who would win. No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest. I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.”

Bill Buckley’s law applies to Mitt Romney today. And it’s worth noting Rush Limbaugh’s recent update to the dictum. After Romney’s terrific Illinois victory speech, Rush said flatly, “A conservative alternative to Romney is Romney.”

As the tough primary season ventures on, Romney has clarified and evolved his views into tough conservative positions.

On economic policy, for example, he would limit the government budget to 20 percent of gross domestic product, slash $500 billion in his first term and restrain Medicaid, food stamps and other entitlement transfers before block granting them to the states. His Medicare reform is nearly identical to the Wyden-Ryan approach. He’s for a true all-of-the-above energy policy that would take the regulatory handcuffs off drilling on federal lands. He would repeal Obamacare. And he has come up with a supply-side tax cut that would lower marginal rates by 20 percent across the board and drop the corporate tax to 25 percent.

Those are very conservative positions. One could seriously ask whether Romney isn’t the most conservative presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan.

Yes, there is still work to be done on clarifying the difference between Romneycare and Obamacare, as well as the need for a strong King Dollar approach to monetary policy. And more tax simplification. But in broad terms, it’s impossible not to think of this former businessman as conservative on the key economic issues. He’s for limited government, lower tax rates, and deregulation, all with a fair amount of detail.

Columnists Dan Henninger and Jennifer Rubin have written about Romney’s close relationship with conservative icon Paul Ryan. It’s a point I made a while back, as I speculated a Ryan appointment as Romney’s budget director.

Sen. Jim DeMint, another conservative icon, recently told reporters after meeting with the former Massachusetts governor, “What I can tell conservatives from my perspective is that I’m not only comfortable with Romney, I’m excited about the possibility of him possibly becoming our nominee.”

The second half of the week was dominated by Team Romney’s Etch A Sketch gaffe. But folks shouldn’t let this fog out Romney’s brilliant speech about economic freedom at the beginning of the week.

On the night of his big Illinois victory, Romney offered a moral exposition of the merits of economic freedom and free enterprise business. And all the while, he mockingly referred to “professor Obama,” who has no clue about what makes business tick.

Romney railed against overregulation, noting that Obama’s regulators would have shut down the Wright brothers for their “dust pollution.” He said the Obama government “would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb,” adding, “Oh, that’s right. They just did.”

Romney made clear that economic freedom is the key to the American economy. He said, “The history of the world has shown that economic freedom is the only force that has consistently lifted people out of poverty.” He added: “The genius of America is that we nurture these dreams and the dreamers. We honor them, and yes, we reward them.”

Pause a moment on the idea of rewarding the dreamers. This is a crucial difference with Obama, who wants to penalize the dreamers. Make a bunch of money and you’re gonna pay higher tax rates. It’s class warfare, the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent. Tax the rich. Redistribute.

But Obama’s class warfare is an assault on freedom. It’s an assault on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s a key point in this election. It may be the key point. And by acknowledging the importance of rewarding success and constitutional freedom, Romney also shows he understands the incentive model of economic growth.

In fact, Romney recently told National Review’s Robert Costa that solving the budget deficit could be done in two ways — spending reductions and pro-growth tax policies.

The Ryan budget itself, when properly priced out in dynamic terms to account for growth incentives from lower tax rates, would be balanced in 10 years with substantially lower debt-to-GDP ratios. It sounds as if Romney gets this. That by itself is worthy of the nomination.

Then Romney told us Tuesday night: “This election will be about principle. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot.” He said essentially the same thing the day before during a University of Chicago speech. And for many months, he has been talking about the battle for America’s soul, between Obama’s big-government entitlement state and his vision of a merit-based opportunity society.

This is Reagan-like. This is Jack Kemp-like. This is Paul Ryan’s American idea.

This is, in short, profoundly conservative. An election winner.