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When character counts in choosing a president

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Political courage is the willingness to risk one's electoral future for the sake of the greater good. In "Profiles in Courage," John F. Kennedy wrote about senators who took unpopular stands, and some of them went down to defeat.

Newt Gingrich has displayed such courage from time to time. During the 1980s and '90s, his efforts to elect a GOP House majority put him high on the Democrats' target list. He kept at it, even though they nearly denied him reelection more than once.

Nevertheless, his courage took plenty of vacations when it came to policy convictions: Expedience led him to embrace trade protectionism and pork-barrel spending.

As for another major GOP candidate, Mitt Romney's would be a short chapter in "Profiles in Courage." When he was running for senator and governor in liberal Massachusetts, he cast himself as a pro-choice moderate. When he launched his first bid for the GOP nomination for president in 2007, he became more conservative. His conversion may well be genuine, and a President Romney might actually run political risks to uphold conservative principles. But his career to date offers little precedent.

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