New Republican frontrunner in New Hampshire: Mitt Romney, of course

Yes, I understand that he’s not running. And yes, I understand that the only reason he’s leading this poll is because he has tons of name recognition there whereas the rest of the 2016 field hasn’t even introduced themselves to voters yet. None of that matters. What matters is that when an opportunity this sweet to troll your Romney-hating readership comes along, you seize it. With both hands.

Romney 3.0, guys. The magic is back.

According to the Suffolk University/Boston Herald survey, which was released Thursday, 24% of Granite State Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say that Romney would be their first choice for their party’s presidential nomination.

Among the potential 2016 GOP contenders, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was a distant second, at 9%, with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at 8%, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 7%…

Without Romney, Christie and Paul were tied at 11% as the first choice for the nomination among Republicans in New Hampshire, with Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas each at 8%.

To put in perspective for you how important name recognition is, this same poll has Jon Huntsman leading Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Paul Ryan. Huntsman, remember, gave up early on Iowa in 2012 and campaigned entirely in New Hampshire on the longshot theory that if he pulled the upset on Romney there, righties might turn to him as their “Anyone But Mitt” savior and propel him to victory in South Carolina and beyond. He finished a distant third behind Romney and Ron Paul, but left enough of an impression that he still polls better at the moment than far more influential Republicans. (Er, what’s Paul Ryan’s excuse for doing so poorly, though? He was the VP nominee.) I think the poll might also be lowballing Rand Paul, as there may be a libertarian contingent in New Hampshire that’s not being included as “Republicans” here who’ll nonetheless turn out for Rand in 2016. Like I said, Ron finished second. There’s a base there to build on. As for Romney, though, consider this a sign that he may retain enough goodwill in the state in two years to help the establishment champion on the stump. If Jeb or Christie is in a tight race with Paul, is Mitt the difference? RINO alliance!

Since we’re on the topic of primaries, let me apologize to Jonathan Last for having misunderstood his post yesterday about whether Hillary’s imploding. I thought he meant as a general election candidate; he says he meant that she might be imploding among Democrats and liberals, specifically. Last, like Ross Douthat, thinks that Democrats are potentially facing the sort of elites-versus-populists schism that the GOP’s coping with right now. I think there’s something to that — which is why “Ready for Hillary” and pro-Clinton Democrats in Congress have moved so quickly to endorse her. The more inevitable she seems, the more populists like Elizabeth Warren will think twice about rolling the dice on a primary challenge. I’m skeptical that her elitist, establishment reputation will stop her on the left, though, not so much because she’s learned hard lessons from 2008 as because there’s simply no potential challenger as formidable now as Obama was then. No one has a “historic candidate” narrative that trumps Hillary’s own; no one has retail appeal or star power that’s going to challenge Bill Clinton’s this time. And most of all, Democrats don’t have the luxury they had in 2008 of rolling the dice on a charismatic challenger knowing that the wind was at their backs in November after eight years of Bush. If you’re going to try to hold the White House for a third consecutive term, your best bet is with the household name whom everyone thinks has a legit shot at winning, not a crapshoot like Warren or (giggle) Brian Schweitzer. If anyone’s learned any hard lessons from 2008, it’s centrist voters who decided to listen to the left when they said we could afford to gamble on a little-known newbie senator hero-worshiped by liberals. That lesson doesn’t point towards Elizabeth Warren in 2016. It points towards you know who. Exit quotation: