Quotes of the day

Who is pushing Mitt Romney to run for president again in 2016?

Somebody is, and it’s probably not a Romney family member. If it were, they’d know more what Mitt himself is thinking. As it is we’re getting a steady drip of stories that say things along the line of “the door’s not closed, he’s keeping a close eye on the field and his powder dry.” Or some other mash-up of journalist phrases…

So who’s behind this? That’s what we think is the obvious question. Right now it’s the pre-voting invisible presidential primary season. Candidates are running to see where they stand vis-à-vis competitors for their respective party nominations. Who’s trying to throw Mitt into the mix?

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Via the NYT.

nyt

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Why, you might wonder, would anyone want Romney to run again? He offered almost nothing to the ticket in 2012 except a bland respectability. Against the weak GOP lineup he was facing, that was enough to win the nomination. But most Republican voters never really loved the guy, and he never really seemed particularly fond of Republican voters or conservative policies (remember, this is the guy who as Massachusetts governor signed into law the model for Obamacare, hoping that the rest of the nation would follow).

His domestic policy agenda, in particular, was intentionally kept vague and largely substance free; he wasn’t running on what he would do so much as what he wouldn’t be—Obama. There was almost no positive case to vote for Romney, and he and his team barely attempted to present one. Another nod for Romney would only serve to further cement the already pervasive notion that the Republican party is an agenda-free-zone when it comes to policy.

Romney was nominated because he seemed more electable than the rest of the field. Relatively speaking, that impression may have been right, but it’s hard to run on electability after having soundly lost a major national election…

In other words, the case for Romney in 2016 is rather like the case for Romney in 2012: Romney, who was in the GOP primary fray in 2008 as well, would still like to be president, there are some party bigwigs who see him as their best shot, and some campaign professionals would like to cash in on yet another sure-to-be-pricey run. That’s not an argument for why Romney should run. It’s an argument for why he shouldn’t.

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Also shrewd was Todd’s analysis of the Romney 3.0 boomlet which had been the subject of a piece by Robert C. O’Brien and me for Politico Magazine on Friday, “Third Time’s the Charm,” which had quickly accumulated more than 1,000 comments and scores of emails and tweets pro-and-con. We discussed it and Todd nailed the source of the Romney surge:

“I think the reason why Romney 3.0 has gotten traction is less about Romney, and more about the current issues of the day. I think the Republican 2016 field as we thought we knew it — think Scott Walker, think Chris Christie, think Marco Rubio, think Bobby Jindal — you know, throw those names in. I think if you have issues like national security front and center, that’s an incredibly shrinking, I feel like all of those guys are suddenly shrinking in stature. None of them, if the chief criticism of Barack Obama by a lot of people is you know what, he just wasn’t experienced enough, he just didn’t have a grasp of everything you needed to know to be able to be commander-in-chief, right? … So I think that’s why [Romney] seems to look larger right now in stature because of the issues of the day that are front and center, and if you look at the rest of this Republican field. They don’t seem as if they have the resume to reassure hawks in the party.”

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It wasn’t so long ago that Obama was ridiculing Romney for calling Russian America’s number one geopolitical foe and complaining that the Navy had fewer ships any time since World War I. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed,” Obama mocked in their final debate. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama said.

But now, six years later, Rubio believes Romney’s basic foreign policy frame has been vindicated. And it just so happens to mesh with the worldview of a certain senator from Florida who could well be gearing up for a presidential campaign of his own.

“Many of the things Mitt Romney warned about and talked about, especially in that third debate, have now become reality,” Rubio told The Daily Beast in an interview. “The last six years have certainly discredited the Obama worldview and have created an opportunity for people to assert the rightful place of the United States in the world.”

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Running for president is very difficult. You have to submit yourself to a nearly two-year long crucible where every single word and gesture you make is scrutinized, by both the media and political opponents seeking to destroy you. But having run for the nomination in 2008 and having won it in 2012, Romney is very much used to this. In contrast, everyone else in the prospective GOP field would likely be pitted against one of the most experienced political families in the country in the general election, despite having never run a national race before (or having performed poorly in a primary, like Rick Perry)…

Pundits frequently mock Romney as out of touch and gaffe-prone. “He is a terrible politician,” Daniel Larison writes. “He proved to be a terrible presidential candidate,” Philip Klein concurs. But back in November 2012, Ramesh Ponnuru convincingly rebutted this point. He pointed out that Romney outperformed many generic Republican candidates across the country — which suggests that the party was dragging Romney down, not the other way around

Furthermore, Republicans have already done a skillful job turning many past attacks on Romney’s wealth and aloofness against Hillary Clinton. Romney’s biggest weakness as far as 2016 goes is that it might be harder to brand him as a “change candidate,” compared to a fresher face, as Ponnuru argued later. But after 8 years of Democratic rule, a GOP win would, itself, represent change.

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I don’t know that he’d be the worst candidate in the world this time around. He’s so thoroughly vetted that there is nothing voters could possibly learn about him. At this point he might be the platonic ideal of the generic Republican candidate, with very little energizing upside, but zero hidden downside. Every conceivable angle–pro and con–is baked into his cake. If you believe that’s enough to win in 2016, then maybe he’s okay. At the very least, running him as the nominee in 2016 would be, in it’s own weird way, a radical new electoral proposition coming from Republicans. No one has tried it in the modern era and it becomes difficult to predict how it would work…

I posit that it’s possible the Republican field in 2016 could be much weaker than people anticipate.

If that happens–if Walker loses and Christie can’t recover his mojo and Jindal never takes off and Rubio either decides not to go, or can’t escape his immigration problems and Ryan stands pat and Huckabee chooses to keep making money–then there will be a moment of chaos and panic in Republican circles as the party realizes that the line-up they were expecting isn’t going to appear. And in that moment, there will be the opportunity for both a fresh face we haven’t looked at before, and for Romney 5.0.

Exit question: This is a serious question–not me being snarky. If I told you that you had to have either Jeb or Romney 5.0 as the nominee, who would you pick?

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Most people think of the GOP primary campaign as a contest between conservative hardliners and establishmentarians. But it’s actually more like two different contests: One in which a group of undisciplined hardliners undercut each other’s bids to take on the favorite; and another in which elders rally around the most conservative of the party’s disciplined, accomplished veterans. These lines never cross. Conservatives are far too exacting to accept a conservative who curries favor from the donor class, and the donor class won’t favor a candidate who panders to the far right too much…

Conservatives can be forgiven for being sick of Romney and wanting fresh blood. But they should hope (perhaps quietly hope) that someone like Romney throws his hat in fairly soon. Otherwise they’ll be stuck with a candidate who carries all the baggage of the congressional party, and a down-ballot catastrophe. A Romney-ite would have a hard time beating Hillary Clinton, but a much better chance than any of the conservatives who have all but declared their candidacies already.

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I have a soft spot for Romney, who has always struck me as a likable nerd, a man who spent his 20s and 30s raising a family instead of drinking and carousing. His main indulgence: eating multiple bowls of sugared cereal. Though his 47 percent remarks showed him in his worst light, his decades of charitable giving paint an entirely different picture. I tend to think that Romney’s struggles in 2012 flowed from his defensiveness and his fear of alienating Tea Party conservatives he didn’t truly understand. When Romney was himself, as he was during his first debate with the president, he seemed solid and self-assured. If Romney did indeed decide to run again, he’d be wise to jettison his old playbook and to instead detail how he, as a practitioner of creative destruction and disruptive innovation and all the rest, can help make these powerful economic forces work for all Americans. He could build a new presidential campaign around the need to reform and renew America’s safety net, to make it fiscally sustainable while also making it more effective. Imagine if Romney, having been caricatured as a cat’s-paw of the Wall Street overclass, decided to rail against the outsize power of the megabanks and in favor of a more competitive and inclusive capitalism. If we let Romney be Romney, we might find the populist the party needs

[T]here is something to the Reagan parallel. Though he commanded the loyalty of conservatives, Reagan was a decidedly pragmatic governor of California who acquiesced to tax increases, the liberalization of the state’s abortion laws, and other measures that should by all rights have scandalized the right. By the time Reagan ran against Gerald Ford in 1976, however, he presented himself as a conservative purist, devoted to devolving power to state governments and taking a tougher line against the Soviet empire. Between 1976 and 1980, he again underwent another subtle but important shift, smoothing some of his ideological rough edges and offering a more optimistic brand of conservatism tailor-made to appeal to voters who had grown tired of Carter-era malaise.

Could Mitt Romney pull off a similar feat? I wouldn’t rule it out.

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As Philip Klein has pointed out, Romney has almost nothing in common with Richard Nixon, the last defeated general-election candidate to successfully re-enter the lists. Nixon was a brilliant political infighter who had served as vice president for eight years after a successful congressional career and who lost one of the closest presidential elections in history; Romney is a one-term governor who underperformed in all three of his presidential campaigns (losing a winnable primary campaign in ’08, struggling to put away Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the ’12 primaries, and then disappointing relative to his own pollsters’ expectations in the general election) for reasons that were obvious to anyone who followed his performance on the trail. He has one great debate performance, an impressive private-sector career and a lot of human decency on his resume, but he offers nothing that’s responsive to the reasons the G.O.P. has lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections … no innovative policy portfolio on domestic issues (unlike Rubio and Ryan and Rand Paul), no record of broadening the party’s coalition to include more working class or black or Hispanic or young or female voters (unlike Christie, in his re-elect campaign), and no personal or biographical qualities (unlike Rubio, among others) that might help a little with G.O.P. rebranding among minorities or working-class voters.

Yes, it’s true, some events since 2012 have made him look better vis-a-vis Obama than he did during their contest. But he won’t be running against Obama: In a campaign against Hillary Clinton, with her distinctive strengths and coalition-unifying profile, he’d be pretty much the perfect foil, the living, breathing proof that the G.O.P. is so much the party of old rich out-of-touch white guys that they keep … nominating … the same … one.

I think Republican voters understand this, even if some Republican consultants do not, which means that as long as there is somebody else who fits the party-unifying profile — most likely Rubio, possibly Christie, maybe a gubernatorial dark horse — a Romney campaign would lead the polls based on name recognition and then collapse upon contact with political reality. And since, again, I came to admire Romney more than I expected by the end of his last unsuccessful campaign, I hope for his sake that he realizes as much, and finds another, saner way to serve the country he so loves.

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[I]f you are a Republican with a strong stomach, check out RCP’s 2016 general election match-ups, with Clinton defeating every likely GOP presidential candidate by wide margins…

If you think of her in retail terms, Hillary is Costco, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot all rolled into one mega-mega-mega-store. Meanwhile, the GOP’s 2016 candidates are small specialty boutiques in a suburban, red-state shopping mall.

In anticipation of 2016 the GOP had better consolidate its goods and reinvent its brand. It also has to dump the Hillary deniers, because at this point, denying her candidacy is counterproductive to formulating a coherent strategy. After all that, the party can go to market with a product that is acceptable to the masses.

If not, on November 8, 2016, the GOP will be out of the White House business for years to come.