On Wednesday I was fortunate to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition’s candidates’ forum in Washington D.C. and to meet several of the candidates, including Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum. More to come, but I want first to get down the essence of Romney’s comments.

Romney drew a clear contrast between his vision for America and that of President Barack Obama, stressing that “[Obama] is seeking to make a merit-based society into an entitlement society.”

Romney laid into President Obama’s foreign policy, stressing, “[Obama] has been timid and weak in face of the existential threat … from Iran.” He sketched a vision of the future in which he would lead the country, saying, “Every time the sophists try to draw you toward weakness and appeasement” you should remember what can be accomplished by a “person of strength,” citing the renewal and empowerment of a city under the leadership of Rudy Giuliani, who he mentioned would be his choice for attorney general should he be elected President.

I’ve heard Romney speak several times and have been impressed with his clarity, sharpness, and cogency. But today he inspired. He spoke of his great love for the U.S. and its people, and of his vision for America as leader in a way that was Reagan-esque. The man is clearly a winner who, in the words of Sam Fox, immediate past chairman of the RJC, who introduced him, has been “successful at everything he has touched.”

Romney said, “We are a people from all parts of world, from all walks of life, strengthened by founding principles … It is not an accident the U.S. became the greatest county in the world…Today as we face new threats, I have no doubt the American people will rise to occasion.

“One of those principles [is the] fact that we are a merit-based society. Hard work, education, risk-taking, and sometimes a little luck” make for success, he said, and a “merit-based, opportunity society gathers and creates a society of pioneers. As they take risks, they lift the rest of us. American prosperity is fully dependent on having an opportunity society. I don’t think President Obama understands this. I don’t think he understands America.”

“I’ve spent 25 years in business. I’ve signed the front – and the back – of a paycheck.”

He added, “Entitlement societies are praised in academic circles where they are far removed from the reality of a competitive world.”

On foreign policy, Romney said, “Internationally, President Obama has embraced appeasement; has been more generous toward enemies than friends…that is the natural tendency of someone unsure of his own strength.

“The course of appeasement has long been the course of the weak and the timid – a path a nation chooses at its own peril.”

He said that on his watch, “Iran’s ayatollahs will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons…a nuclear Iran is not only a threat to Israel, it’s a threat to the entire world.”

Near conclusion he cited his desire to appoint Rudy Giuliani attorney general should he be elected.

Also addressing the RJC today were Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and John Huntsman. I’ll blog a bit more about them tomorrow, but for now wanted to mention that every one of these individuals stressed strong alliance with Israel and had strong criticism for the President for what they characterized as appeasement foreign policy. They all strike me as devoted to the principles of fiscal responsibility and smaller government. They each, except for Huntsman, pledged with absolute definitive statements that on his/her watch, Iran would not get a nuclear weapon (Regarding Iran’s quest for nuclear capability, Huntsman only said, “For me, all options are on the table.”)

I think that, perhaps other than Huntsman (who was not strong enough, in my judgment, about this) all were equally strong on stopping Iran, this most vital matter of our time. But Romney stands out as the most eloquent, inspiring, and frankly presidential.

There’s a reason Bill Clinton recently sang the praises of his one-time nemesis, Newt Gingrich. No doubt he would like to see the Republicans nominate the tone deaf Newt, who today at the RJC resuscitated his ill-advised discussion of child labor with a downright zany-sounding idea about putting children to work replacing janitors in the public schools in order to “learn to work.” (Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may be envisioning something voluntary and creative and he is, after all, the man who helped implement successful welfare reform. But putting children to work as janitors? Can anyone say Oliver Twist?)

Gingrich may be book smart, but his appeal is almost exclusive to hard core conservatives.

Smart is as smart does. In an age when independent voters decide almost every election, Republicans would be wise to select a candidate with mass appeal, media savvy, and common sense, who can unify, not divide.

If they want to win, Republicans better pick a winner.

That would be Romney.