Many people are looking to the many primary elections on March 6th — "Super Tuesday" — to clarify where this year's Republican nomination campaign is headed.
It may clarify far more than that, including the future of this nation and of Western civilization. If a clear winner with a commanding lead emerges, the question then becomes whether that candidate is someone who is likely to defeat Barack Obama.
If not, then the fate of America — and of Western nations, including Israel — will be left in the hands of a man with a lifelong hostility to Western values and Western interests.
President Obama is such a genial man that many people, across the ideological space, cannot see him as a danger.
For every hundred people who can see his geniality, probably only a handful see the grave danger his warped policies and ruthless tactics pose to a whole way of life that has given generation after generation of Americans unprecedented freedom and prosperity.
The election next November will not be just another election, and the stakes add up to far more than the sum of the individual issues. Moreover, if reelected and facing no future election, whatever political constraints may have limited how far Obama would push his radical agenda will be gone.
He would have the closest thing to a blank check. Nothing could stop him but impeachment or a military coup, and both are very unlikely. A genial corrupter is all the more dangerous for being genial.
The four remaining Republican candidates have to be judged, not simply by whether they would make good presidents, but by how well they can cut through Obama's personal popularity and glib rhetoric, to alert the voters as to the stakes in this year's election.
Ron Paul? Even those of us who agree with much of his domestic agenda, including getting rid of the Federal Reserve System, cannot believe that his happy-go-lucky attitude toward Iran's getting a nuclear weapon represents anything other than a grave danger to the whole Western World.
Rick Santorum has possibilities, but can he survive the media's constant attempts to paint him as some kind of religious nut who would use the government to impose his views on others? And, if he can, will he also be able to go toe-to-toe with Obama in debates?
I would not bet the rent money on it. And what is at stake is far bigger than the rent money.
Mitt Romney is the kind of candidate that the Republican establishment has always looked for, a moderate who can appeal to independents. It doesn't matter how many such candidates have turned out to be disasters on election night, going all the way back to Thomas E. Dewey in 1948.
Nor does it matter that the Republicans' most successful candidate of the 20th century — Ronald Reagan, with two consecutive landslide victories at the polls — was nobody's idea of a mushy moderate.
He stood for something. And he could explain what he stood for. These may sound like modest achievements, but they are very rare, especially among Republicans.
Newt Gingrich is the only candidate still in the field who can clearly take on Barack Obama in one-on-one debate and cut through the Obama rhetoric and mystique with hard facts and plain logic.
Nor is this just a matter of having a gift of gab. Gingrich has a far deeper grasp of both the policies and the politics than the other Republican candidates.
Does Gingrich have political "baggage"? More than you could carry on a commercial airliner.
Charges of opportunism have been among the most serious raised against the former Speaker of the House. But being President of the United States is the opportunity of a lifetime. If that doesn't sober a man up, it is hard to imagine what would.
Do any of the Republican candidates seem ideal? No. But, the White House cannot be left vacant, while we hope for a better field of candidates in 2016. We have to make our choice among the alternatives actually available, of which Obama is by far the worst.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.