Is the Republican presidential field for 2016 so bad that some GOPers have to trot out Mitt Romney as a “savior” to rescue the party and America from disaster? Never mind that the disaster is already upon us and the next president is going to have the thankless job of pulling America’s — and the world’s — Apple Brown Betty out of the fire. No doubt Romney has the competence to pull off a miracle. But can he beat Hillary Clinton? That should be the only question of concern as former Romney supporters and donors line up to pressure the 2012 nominee to go for the brass ring one more time.
The speculation about a potential Romney candidacy yo-yos between “maybe” and “not in a million years.” That right there should tell us a lot about this campaign without a candidate. Romney staffers are convinced he’s not going to run. Friends point to opposition from his family.
So why did Romney go on his old friend Hugh Hewitt’s nationally syndicated radio show and say this about his potential 2016 candidacy: “you know, circumstances can change, but I’m just not going to let my head go there”?
That’s all it took. Hewitt, whose geniality sometimes masks a first class mind, and his law partner Robert C. O’Brien, who worked on the Romney campaign in 2012, penned an op-ed for Politico in which they describe the reaction:
Pressed again and again by friends and colleagues, Hewitt decided to try and succeeded on Tuesday, Aug. 26, when Governor Romney returned to the air for an interview. Those 20 minutes—and Romney’s enigmatic “you know, circumstances can change, but I’m just not going to let my head go there”—sparked more reaction across more and varied platforms than any Hewitt has conducted in the 15 years his nationally syndicated radio show has been on the air. (Some of those reactions are catalogued here.) Among the insider veterans of the 2012 campaign, the enthusiasm for another Romney run went from 35 MPH to 80 MPH overnight, and O’Brien fielded numerous calls from the press, former Romney staffers and major contributors on what the interview meant.
By leaving the door open just a crack, Romney galvanized a lot of Republicans who don’t think much of their choices in 2016. The complaints run the gamut: too conservative, too liberal, no experience, too isolationist, and … omigod … a libertarian. None of those will do, so why not recycle, rebrand, and regurgitate Mitt Romney? How bad can he be compared to the other candidates?
Truth be told, it’s hard to see a worse choice. Mitt Romney is a plutocrat. He’s a nice plutocrat, though — a loving father and husband, kindhearted to a fault, and he loves dogs. If being a plutocrat is the worst thing you can say about him, he has it all over his likely opponent — a conniving, rabidly ambitious harpie married to a power-grasping husband with ties to shady people all over the world. Both are so in love with money, we’d have to nail down every furnishing in the White House lest they sell the furniture in addition to access to the office.
To be fair to Hewitt and O’Brien, they lay out an honest case for Romney, summarized by Arit John, writing in The Wire:
- Running a third time doesn’t make him a loser — Ronald Reagan went through three GOP nomination cycles, “a fact that seems unknown to a younger generation of political pundits (as indeed, most of this history is)”
- Netflix’s Mitt documentary showed a different side of the former governor, “a caring father, an earnest patriot and a warm and funny person”
- Romney has experience. The two reference Malcolm Gladwell’s pseudoscientific 10,000 hours rule “and—whatever its scientific validity—Romney is a poster boy for it.”
- Hillary Clinton is probably afraid of him. “It is a good bet that Hillary fears a Romney three-peat more than she does the first-time national candidacy of any of the other potential GOP nominees.”
- He can handle the primary season better than other talented orators like Ted Cruz
All this may be true, but no one who has been pushing Romney to run has explained what would be different this time around. What abilities has he improved upon? What new talents can he exploit? Romney was rejected by the voters in 2012 and by Republicans in 2008. What reason can he and his supporters offer that would convince both Republicans and the voter at large that their evaluation of him was in error?
Hewitt penned another op-ed for the Washington Examiner that tried to make the point that Romney’s chances have been given a boost since national security was back on the front burner as an electoral issue:
By week’s end, retired war fighters Army General David Petraeus and USMC General James Mattis as well as former President George W. Bush had all found forums on Thursday and Friday in which to gently but firmly push the president towards taking on the Islamic State with decisive force before it could put down roots and nest deeply. The elections of 2014 have veered towards national security — scaring every Democrat on the ballot — and just in time. With the world melting down, every candidate who is serious about American strength is going to do very well in November, and beyond.
Again, this may be true. But there is no clamor whatsoever for Mitt Romney to grab the fallen standard of American leadership and lead the charge against Putin, ISIS, Iran, and the rest of the world’s bad guys who have been allowed free reign to cause all the trouble they can manage.
What we have here is a classic churning operation by Romney partisans. Like stock churning, where a few investors would furiously buy and sell a particular stock, driving up the price until the suckers were well and truly hooked. The investors would then pull out with their ill-gotten gains while the stock price was at its zenith and the suckers watched as the value of their holdings fell through the floor. In this case, we have a few Romney supporters dropping hints, writing op-eds, going on the cable net shows and the Sunday gabfests — all to give the appearance that there is what Hewitt is calling a “Romney 3.0” boomlet.
This is not to say that Hewitt, O’Brien, and other Romney partisans are doing anything unethical or illegal by artificially creating the illusion of a grassroots movement for Romney. This is a tried and true political gambit that used to be commonplace when party nominations featured all sorts of anachronisms like “Favorite Sons” and “Dark Horses” who would show up at a competitive convention, plant stories with the press, gossip with the delegates, spread rumors, and organize demonstrations — sometimes lasting for hours — that would roil the floor. A potential candidate who might want to be president, but didn’t enjoy the favor of party bosses, might convince enough delegates that he had far more support than was generally thought and that a genuine bandwagon might be in motion.
We don’t have competitive conventions anymore and the primary races are less than two years away. That isn’t much time for Romney’s “changed circumstances” to come about and convince him he should try again. He holds a large lead in Iowa and New Hampshire only because most Republican voters barely know candidates like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. They know even less about others who might be thinking of running, like Indiana Governor Mike Pence or Ohio Senator Rob Portman. Universal name recognition has its advantages when the rest of the field is virtually unknown to the voter and you’re two years out from the primaries.
Being a politician, Romney’s lack of a 100% Shermanesque denial of his interest in running only makes sense. Why close the door when anything is possible? Eventually, some candidate — perhaps one not on anyone’s radar yet — will emerge as the GOP frontrunner and people will clap their hand to their forehead and exclaim, “Of course! He/She’s the one! Why didn’t I see it earlier?”
Nor should we buy into the argument that none of the Republican candidates mentioned to date could win. Several would be extremely competitive against Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat. The economy, the world’s meltdown, the gloominess of the electorate — there’s a very good chance that there will be little or no improvement in any of these factors by election day 2016, and some observers might give better than even odds that it will be worse.
By then, it is likely that voters would have had enough of Democratic leadership in the White House and would look for an alternative to weakness, indecisiveness, and incompetence. Romney might be up to the task of turning all that around, but we have yet to see any sign that the voter would be willing to give him the opportunity to do so.