The Washington Examiner author of this article, Philip Klein, is right on! We can’t believe it either, Mr. Klein! CVP
Washington Examiner The one silver lining of the 2012 election results seemed to be that I’d never have to write about Mitt Romney as a candidate again.
As regular readers know, between 2006 and 2012, I wrote a lot of critical columns and posts about Romney (I even wrote an ebook laying out how conservatives could cope with a Romney nomination and potential presidency). Like many others, I assumed his career as a candidate was over after 2012 based on the fact that there is absolutely zero good reason for him to run again. But American politics is evidently like Hill Valley in the “Back to the Future” movies, where you can go way back in time or well into the future, and the leading characters are all from the same few families. As my colleague Byron York tried to tell us last fall, Romney 2016 is starting to look like an actual thing.
After he lost the Republican nomination battle in 2008 to John McCain, there was still some residual enthusiasm among Romney’s biggest fans, who convinced themselves that he could have beaten Barack Obama were he the nominee instead. In 2012, we got to test that hypothesis —against a vulnerable incumbent in a shaky economic environment ideally suited for Romney’s “turnaround” persona. Romney got creamed. Even his one supposed strong suit — his organizational prowess — was called into question by an absolutely atrocious and incompetent turnout effort.
As much as I criticized Romney in 2012, it was at least easier to see the logic of why he chose to run a second time, and why the GOP chose to nominate him in a weak field of contenders. (Though it’s a testament to the deep reservations about Romney even back then that Herman Cain actually rose to the top of the field at one point.) Either way, none of the conditions that existed in 2012 exist now. The economy is improving, we already know Romney would make a terrible general election candidate, and there are likely to be other options.
The Monday Washington Post story thatchronicled Romney’s recent signals to political allies that he intends to run notes, “In the conversations, Romney said he is intent on running to the right of Bush.” That strikes me as quintessential Romney. Put aside the fact that (whatever his drawbacks) Bush’s record as governor of Florida was actually to the right of Romney’s in Massachusetts. How I read this line is that Romney’s assessment of the GOP nomination marketplace has revealed that there is a demand for an establishment candidate to the right of Bush, so he thinks he can manufacture a product with Romney 3.0 that will meet that market demand. Never mind Romney’s actual record or convictions.
The real question is how Romney 3.0 would do against a field of stronger candidates than just Bush. If Romney’s whole pitch will be that he’s a better combination of conservatism and electability than anybody else, how would he do against, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker? Romney’s claim to fame as governor was working with Ted Kennedy and Jonathan Gruber to pass a healthcare bill that provided the model for Obamacare. Walker is known for taking on unions to push conservative tax, spending, collective bargaining and education reforms. Romney lost three out of four of his political campaigns. Remember, he was too chicken to run for reelection as governor in Massachusetts in 2006, because he knew he would lose and it would kill his chances of winning the GOP nomination — which he lost to McCain anyway. Walker, in contrast, won three gubernatorial elections in four years in a blue state with the entire weight of the organized national Left lined up against him.
As I noted a few months ago when some early Romney 2016 talk surfaced, the fact that Richard Nixon was able to win after getting re-nominated, which some have cited as precedent, is of no relevance. Nixon lost one of the closest races in history in 1960, whereas in 2012, Romney ran on his supposed strength as an economic whiz and got blown out by an unpopular president with the unemployment rate at nearly 8 percent.
Romney may have believed some of the stories that surfaced last year about nostalgia for Romney. But this sentiment on the Right (such as “see, Romney warned about the threat of Russia”) was more about pointing out the failures of Obama’s second term than representative of any newfound love of Romney. Conservatives have not warmed up to Romney. They’ve gone easier on him, because they assumed he was retired from politics and they don’t see the need to continue kicking him. That will change should he run for president again, a prospect that perplexingly is looking more likely.