I love Herman Cain: I applauded Rick Perry’s entry into the presidential race. But if conservatives really want to roll back government, keep America out of new and far more dangerous foreign wars, generate new jobs and save the country from total financial ruin, they have only one realistic option: Rally behind Mitt Romney

How can I say this right after the revered George Will scathingly dismissed Romney as a flip-flopper and a “pretzel candidate?” 

Well, in the past few weeks, as “Outside the Betway” blogger Doug Mataconis has documented, Will has been even more contemptuous about Herman Cain. He’s dismissed Rick Perry. He was scathing about Michele Bachmann. His superior disdain for Sarah Palin before she decided not to run was so thick you could cut it. And who was the one candidate that ran whom Will loved and didn’t sneer at? Tim Pawlenty

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, Will may like no one (except Pawlenty); But we’ve got to have someone

The first and most important reason for choosing Romney is that he, and only he, of the remaining Big Three candidates has any chance at all of beating Barack Obama

The second reason, which is never given, is that Romney’s evolution in this campaign and his track record (even including ObamaCare) give solid grounds to believe he would do far better in the White House to achieve the most important goals of conservatives than either Cain or Perry. 

American presidential races are won by three key strategies: Suppressing or discouraging the main opponent base, rallying one’s own base and most of all, wooing the independent center. 

President Obama’s record on job creation, increasing the burdens of government and reducing the fiscal deficit is catastrophic and dismal: It’s pathetic. But he can still win in November 2011. 

All three Republican candidates left with a real chance are admirable men who would be a colossal improvement on the president: But Obama can still rally his true Believer Base, especially if he drops Vice President Joe Biden and puts Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the ticket. The GOP-conservative base could shatter if conservatives stay at home or split from a Romney candidacy. Cain and Perry so far have both totally failed to win credibility from independent voters. 

Cain, for all his admirable qualities – and I take 9-9-9 seriously – has all the makings of a classic GOP insurgent candidacy in the tradition of Barry Goldwater in 1964, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or Wendell Willkie in 1940. He can indeed win the nomination and/or attract tremendous enthusiasm from his core supporters. But he cannot win leading the ticket. And for all his success and courage in beating cancer repeatedly, the health issue alone will discredit him with floating independent voters. 

The case against Perry is vastly stronger than the case against Cain: He looked wonderful to me and many others until he actually entered the race. 

Perry’s performance in the presidential debates has consistently been dire and his collapse among the conservative-Tea Party core in polls reflects this. His track record on open borders and unregulated immigration is potentially far more dangerous than Romney enacting ObamaCare in Massachusetts. 

On foreign policy especially, Perry’s debate performance has been woeful. He has been exposed as ignorant and lazy. He clearly did not even read his briefing books. Romney and Cain have both hammered him repeatedly and systematically in the debates. If Perry cannot stand up to them in open debates, how on earth is he going to stand up against Barack Obama? If Perry does these things when the wood is green, what on earth will he do when it is dry? If he wins the nomination, he won’t be able to duck out of debating Obama. 

Conservatives also need to wake up to the cold, hard reality that Rick Perry and Herman Cain have already shown by their actions and appointments that they will not be remotely as conservative as they claim if they win the presidency. 

Why do I make such an extreme and harsh claim? First, Perry only has executive experience as governor of Texas. Texas has the weakest executive system of government of any major state in the Union. We have already in the past decade had a supposedly conservative former Texas governor who did not read his briefing books, was easily manipulated by everyone around him from Paul Wolfowitz to Ben Bernanke and what was the result? 

A then-record increase in the federal deficit, monstrously expensive and (in the case of Iraq) utterly un-necessary foreign wars, sloppy administration, a monstrous increase in the size of the federal government (eagerly accelerated by Obama) and fiscal collapse: Hardly an impressive conservative record And remember, George Will in 2000 and 2004 sang hosannas to Bush II’s conservative credentials. 

Herman Cain is a far more energetic person with vastly superior experience of running large and successful organizations than Perry. But he has just appointed an entire foreign policy and defense team that is nothing but mediocrities and retreads from the Bush II team. These are the same people who eagerly gave you nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan

If Cain cares about that so little that makes them his top advisers even on his campaign, how much worse will his administration be? He has just shown that he cannot be trusted to confidently and consistently apply serious conservative principles on foreign policy. 

Mitt Romney, in striking contrast to Rick Perry, reads his briefing books and takes his ability to debate and handle sound-bites in public seriously. He is not a “natural” at that like Ronald Reagan. But like both President Bush’s, Romney righty takes these abilities seriously and he has learned well. You cannot coast on complacent bromides and hope to win the presidency. Perry thought you could. That is why he has crashed and burned. 

Romney will also be his own man on foreign policy. Alone among the three leading Republican candidates, he has dared to buck the High Priests of Free Trade orthodoxy and stand up to China on the vital issue of defending American industry. He has shown the brains, the character and the courage to big liberal orthodoxy in this crucial area. 

George Will has always happily endorsed the reckless outsourcing of American manufacturing and wealth to China, so of course he hates Romney. Liberals from Bill Clinton and Thomas Friedman to Barack Obama love to outsource jobs and let American industry and business collapse at China’s expense. Just like George Will. 

Romney alone among leading GOP candidates combines sound principles of reduced taxation and smaller government with protecting our own economy. In these crucial areas, Perry simply lacks all credibility despite his jobs creation rate in Texas. 

Many of those jobs came just from expanding government, the same trick Obama tries. Perry has shown not the slightest recognition that the United States is bigger than Texas and he will have to learn a lot more to govern in Washington than he ever did in Austin. And Cain is widely perceived as too off the wall outside the conservative base. 

Right now, my own “dream-ticket” would be Romney-Cain. As vice president, Herman Cain would learn what he still needs to on the job and grow quickly in national credibility. But for all his wonderful qualities, he will not be able to attract sufficient independent voters to beat Obama and the DAM (Democratic Attack Machine) in the national election. 

Romney performed the all-too-rare political miracle of getting elected as governor in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. Conservatives and the rest of the GOP desperately need a candidate next year who can woo the centrist voters they need to win out of the DAM’s tight clutches. 

Romney is the only choice they’ve got who has already proven he can do that. Mitt Romney’s much-criticized background as a relatively elite, “country club” Republican actually boosts the likelihood that as president he really will slash spending. For another remarkable reality is that it was Gerald Ford and the first President Bush, whom conservatives hated at the time, who did more to truly cut government spending and shrink the federal deficit than the far more popular Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush

Because Romney comes from the same GOP tradition as Ford and Bush I, he will also have the confidence to reject the super-hawks on foreign policy who will try and lead him by the nose into reckless new foreign wars as they did with George W. Bush. 

I was not in Mitt Romney’s corner when he started out. But a long presidential race is a crucible: Flaws as a candidate are mercilessly revealed and supposedly weak candidates can reveal and develop impressive new strengths. Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have both already passed that crucial test. But Romney is the one who can deliver the goods for conservatives on the most crucial issues when he gets to the White House. Remember, it was George W. Bush, the hero of George Will, who famously chocked on that pretzel – not Mitt Romney.

Martin Sieff is former Managing Editor, International Affairs of United Press International. He is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.”