Just something I’ve been thinking about today while dealing with the migraine that columns like this have given me.
A mysterious “Draft Mitt” website is already in place. His de facto 2016 campaign slogan — “I tried to warn you” — is appealing. A near-majority already agrees that America would have been better off with him as president. All systems are go.
Should an opening emerge, Romney, like Nixon, will have a massive legacy infrastructure at his disposal to seize the opportunity. Impressively, Romney is the only Republican who can roll into any major money center like New York, Los Angeles or Houston and mobilize his fundraisers on demand, and he is doing so with regularity.
Where Romney stands out versus every failed nominee of the last half century is that he, a lifelong businessman with just one successful four-year stint as governor of Massachusetts, is not a career politician. Why might this matter in 2016? Presidential elections are typically about a pendulum swing. A view among many at the conference (aptly titled “The Future of American Leadership”) was the perception of too much rampant incompetence for too long—by both parties. Peggy Noonan echoed this sentiment in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal: “Americans hate incompetence”… and “they’ve seen it now from two administrations.”
I’m not sure the “not a career politician” brand helps much with a guy who’s made it his business lately to help Republican career politicians beat back tea-party challenges, but never mind that. Back to my question in the headline: Could anyone in modern American politics get nominated, lose the presidential election, and then get nominated again? It wasn’t uncommon back in the day. Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson twice against Eisenhower; the GOP nominated Nixon in 1960 and then, successfully, in 1968. No former loser has gotten a second bite at the apple since then, though. Are the party’s benches deeper these days or is there more to it?
I think it may be more a function of people not wanting to run again than not being able to get re-nominated. Presidential campaigns have gotten much longer and much, much more expensive. Imagine spending two years under media klieg lights, traveling endlessly, begging the donor class for money ’round the clock, barking out the same talking points over and over, and enduring stomach-churning primaries — only to fall short in the presidential election and then have your supporters sneer that you’re a loser. Who’d want to risk going through that twice? My takeaway from “Mitt,” the documentary about Romney’s second campaign, was that the family really didn’t want to endure another campaign in 2012. They went through with it only because Mitt, as “next in line,” was the favorite for the nomination. His 2008 campaign fizzled in the primaries so he hadn’t had even one bite at the White House apple. He got that in 2012. I don’t think he can stomach another now that he’s approaching 70. And even if he could, notwithstanding his initial advantage in name recognition, which voters would want to roll the dice again on him after he got crushed by an incumbent whose first term had seen chronic eight-percent unemployment? Establishmentarians might back him because he’s a known quantity and has thrown a lot of money around to protect business-class Republicans from grassroots righties, but are primary voters really going to double down on Mr. “47 Percent”?
Seems to me that for someone to get re-nominated he’d need to be young and ambitious enough to be willing to run another excruciating two-year marathon and he’d need some plausible-ish argument that even though he lost the first time, he didn’t really lose. (Nixon, of course, lost only very narrowly to Kennedy in 1960.) There is, in fact, a guy like that out there:
@allahpundit I think Gore in 2004 would have been a very real possibility if he ran, but that was exceptional circumstances
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) July 3, 2014
Gore was under 60 in 2004, had universal name recognition as Clinton’s VP, and had won the popular vote four years earlier against Bush. He could have jumped in and made the case that President Gore would have kept us out of Iraq. He probably could have gotten re-nominated. Ross Douthat thinks Obama could have gotten re-nominated too had he lost a squeaker to McCain in 2008. That’s possible: He was even younger in 2012 than Gore was in 2004 and he certainly didn’t want for ambition. He could have recycled the racial-trailblazer appeal from his 2008 campaign by claiming that losing to McCain had merely deferred the dream and 2012 was the time to see it finally realized. Even then, though, I’m not sure he could have pulled it off: 2012 would have been Hillary’s turn. She would have used Obama’s 2008 loss as proof that the electorate wants someone in the White House as experienced as McCain and she would have had a trailblazer narrative of her own to sell. I’m not so sure O wins his rematch with her in that hypothetical. Gore was the best and maybe only hope for a repeat losing nominee over the last 40 years — and even Gore decided that the ordeal of running again was too much.
Exit question: If, inexplicably, both Hillary and Joe Biden end up passing next year, why not John Kerry 2.0? Better than Martin O’Malley 1.0, no? Or … Al Gore 2.0?