The Washington press is abuzz that Mitt Romney seems poised for another run at the presidency, but we wonder how many of the people who will be voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses share the excitement.
There’s no wondering why the press is excited. The investment mogul and former Massachusetts governor and past Republican nominee adds a familiar name to to their too-early-to-read campaign reports full of little-known governors and congressional long shots, sets up an intriguing storyline about the inevitable fight for big-money donors and the party establishment’s support against a former Florida governor with the familiar last name of Bush, and otherwise serves a favorite press narrative about top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling plutocratic Republicans and their internecine battle with the tin foil hat-wearing conservative crazies. Romney will also be a legitimate contender for the nomination, given all that big-donor money and establishment support and the fact he was once palatable enough to the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses to become the past nominee, so there are even valid journalistic reasons for the attention being paid.
Presidential re-runs are not unprecedented, of course. In the early 1800’s Charles Pinckney was twice the candidate of the Federalist Party, losing both times, which helps explain why there is no longer a Federalist Party. Grover Cleveland won, lost, then won again for the Democrats in the late 1880s. William Jennings Bryan won the Democratic nomination three times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with his brand of prairie populism, and lost the general election in each case. Thomas Dewey was twice the Republican nominee in the ’40s and twice the loser to Franklin Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson was twice the Democratic nominee in the ’50s and twice the loser to Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon was the Republican nominee in ’60 and lost but came back “tanned, rested, and ready” to win in ’68, so unless you remember how that turned out the record isn’t entirely gloomy.
There were those polls a while back showing that Romney would have won a re-match with President Barack Obama, too, and the next batch of surveys will no doubt show that he has a lead on all the candidates whose names are being thrown in the mix. Whoever survives the early blows between Romney and Bush will have the “establishment” support to himself while a wide field of contenders are still battling for “conservative” bloc, and that does provide a plausible plot for the Romney scenario. Money and organization and professional expertise matter, as well, and Romney will have plenty of them. There’s also an argument to be made that he would be a good president, and we proudly made the argument that he would have been better than Barack Obama, and that also matters even if it won’t be a part of the press narrative.
All of that will earn Romney a look from Republicans, but we expect it will be quite skeptical. A more robustly conservative candidate running an effective national campaign could have beaten Obama at any point in the last two years, which Romney failed to do when he had the chance, and that lead you see in the next batch of polls is over a group of more conservative Republicans that have not yet announced their candidacy much less launched a campaign. Among those little-known governors and congressional long shots are some impressive candidates, and they comprise a field far more formidable than Romney faced last time around.
Texas’ Gov. Rick Perry imploded with poor campaigning after a surgery and the weight of the deals he had made on immigration to win a crucial share of the Latino vote in his home state, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was tarred by personal scandals and lobbying ties and the years of vituperation by the left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum couldn’t resist being lured into divisive social issues, former pizza magnate and future talk show host Herman Cain had a sex scandal, “tea party” favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann dropped out early on, promising former Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty dropped out for no apparent reason even earlier, and the likable and competent Romney suddenly seemed the best shot. This time he’ll face the likes of Gov. Scott Walker, who has won three elections to serve two astoundingly successful terms despite the most furious efforts of the Democratic left, Governors Rick Snyder and John Kasich of Michigan and Ohio, respectively, who have won re-election in their crucial states with the same sort of conservative policies, as well as a fully-recovered Perry who managed to demonstrate his anti-illegal immigration bona fides before leaving office, and the likes of Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz, who have shown the sort of boldness conservatives desire on economic issues and represent the polar ends of a crucial intra-party debate on foreign policy.
Any candidate that emerges from that field should be able to win the nomination. Our guess is that the Romney will win the fight with Gov. Jeb Bush for the “establishment” mantle, given that Bush has irrevocable positions on illegal immigration and that horrible “Common Core” curriculum that the federal wants to impose on local education systems that are anathema to all but the wealthiest Republicans, but the Washington press doesn’t seem to understand that “establishment” is now a most foul epithet among the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses. The intense scrutiny that the other contenders have already endured suggests there won’t be scandals to knock any of them out of the race, and they’ll have strong arguments to make about Obamacare and regulations and taxes and getting the government out of the way that the technocratic Romney will have trouble countering. He’s a legitimate contender, but by no means a front-runner.
We might be proved wrong, of course, in which case our only consolation is in knowing that Romney would be a better candidate than anyone the Democrats might put up.
— Bud Norman