Mitt Romney made clear publicly on Friday night what he has spent the last week conveying in private to Republicans across the country: He is considering another presidential campaign.
“I’m giving some serious consideration to the future,” Mr. Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, told a group of Republicans gathered here for the party’s winter meeting.
“I used to joke that President Obama didn’t have a foreign policy, and that was a joke of course because he did a foreign policy … A foreign policy that was characterized by speaking loudly and carrying a small stick.”
He added, “The results of the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama foreign policy have been devastating” and listed off hot-spots around the world from Paris to Syria to Yemen to Nigeria to Crimea to South America.
“Our party must stand for making the world safer, and our principles will do that, and we have to make that point loud and clear.”
“Romney was right about the world getting more complicated,” said Mieke Eoyang, director of the National Security Project at the moderate Democratic think tank Third Way. “But a complicated world doesn’t mean a more simplistic response, which is what Romney was offering.”…
“Romney was right about a lot of this stuff. But I don’t see it as vindication,” said a former senior Romney advisor. “I think it’s a demonstration that he has a view of the world that’s rooted in reality.”…
Romney’s hard-line approach to Iran, said Eoyang, would have precluded the nuclear talks Obama began in late 2013, which have paused the progress of Iran’s nuclear program. “He was totally wrong on Iran,” Eoyang said, saying that putting greater pressure on Iran would “potentially force us into another military confrontation.”
And Democrats scoffed at the contention of an unnamed Romney advisor quoted in the Boston Globe last week, who said that “there wouldn’t be an ISIS at all,” if Romney were president.
Mr. Romney’s call to “end the scourge of poverty” was the most striking departure from his 2012 campaign, in which Democrats attacked him as a wealthy corporate raider who lacked concern for the poor. Mr. Romney contributed to the unflattering narrative during that campaign by scoffing in a private fundraiser at the “47 %” who receive government assistance and recommending “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants.
On Friday, Mr. Romney called for helping “all Americans regardless of the neighborhood they live in.” He also noted his work as a pastor helping the poor, a biographical detail largely overlooked in his 2012 bid.
Mr. Romney didn’t offer any specific policy proposals, but by listing income inequality as one of three priorities, he suggested his next campaign would seek to reach voters from a wide range of income levels and racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Asked who Romney’s policies would favor, a majority of voters (53 percent) said the rich while 34 percent said the middle class and 2 percent said the poor. Compare that to 44 percent who said Obama’s policies would most benefit the middle class, 31 percent who said the poor and 10 percent the rich.
Those are not the numbers of a populist warrior and voice for the least among us. The problem for Romney is that he is regarded by many, at least today, as a wealthy plutocrat primarily concerned with feathering the nests of his affluent friends. Romney might have the right message — frustration and anxiety over income inequality is everywhere in the country — but he seems like a uniquely poor messenger to carry it.
Changing that perception will be the work of the his campaign — if he decides there will be a campaign.
Romney and his inner circle worked the phones in an effort to gauge interest and potential support for a third campaign, and to begin to reassemble the team that carried him to the nomination and into the general election.
But within days, another reality set in, which was resistance to his possible candidacy. A few one-time Romney supporters expressed public skepticism while others privately said they hoped he would not go forward.
There was criticism as well about the way the rollout was handled, which appeared to have been little planned and caught even some close to Romney by surprise. There was criticism as well about the rationale that some of those around Romney were using to justify a new campaign.
Many Republicans, however fond they are of Romney personally, are unforgiving about the campaign he ran, arguing that Obama was highly vulnerable and that a more skilled campaign and candidate would have won.
In 1948, when Democrats considered offering their presidential nomination to Dwight Eisenhower, the former and future Democratic speaker of the House, taciturn Sam Rayburn, said of Eisenhower: “Good man but wrong business.” Two landslide elections and an admirable presidency proved that Rayburn was spectacularly mistaken, but he was right that not every good man is good at every business. Romney, less than nimble at the business of courting voters, lost a winnable race in 2012.
The nation was mired in a disappointing recovery, upward mobility had stalled and the incumbent president’s signature achievement was unpopular and becoming more so. Barack Obama, far from being a formidable politician, was between the seismic repudiations of 2010 and 2014. Running against Romney, Obama became the first president to win a second term with smaller percentages of both the popular and electoral votes. He got 3.6 million fewer votes and a lower percentage of the electoral vote. Yet Romney lost all but one (North Carolina) of the 10 battleground states. He narrowly lost Florida, Virginia and Ohio, but even if he had carried all three, Obama still would have won with 272 electoral votes…
America does not have one presidential election every four years, it has 51 — in the states and the District of Columbia. A Romney candidacy, drawing on his network of financial supporters and other activists, might make sense if the GOP were anemic in the states. But Republicans as of this week control 31 governorships, including those in seven of the 10 most populous states (Florida, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio — all but California, Pennsylvania and New York).
For the flock of younger contenders in race the question instead is: Why not? Politicians’ careers rarely suffer if they run for the nomination and lose; quite the contrary. They gain experience and a bigger list of donors. And if they do better than expected, they land on the list of serious contenders for the next cycle.
Others run to mostly promote ideas (former Rep. Ron Paul). And for others, there’s at least the suspicion that they’re running to boost their careers as commentators and book writers (Huckabee).
In Romney’s case, though, there’s an additional impetus: a successful man’s hunger to erase the stigma of failure.
“I have looked at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee of their party,” Romney said at the end of the 2012 campaign, in a moment captured by the documentary “Mitt.” “They become a loser for life…. We just brutalize whoever loses.”
“Look, I think Mitt Romney wanted to run all along,” declared panellist Stephen Hayes on Tuesday night’s edition of Fox News’ Special Report. “And this,” Hayes continued, “I think this is going to be the fundamental challenge of a Romney candidacy. His problem, going back years, has been flip-flopping or inauthenticity – call it what you want. And I think he’s starting this race by pretending that he’s just now been called back into the race – possibly called back into service – when I think it’s pretty clear that this is something he was thinking about all along.”…
Or maybe it’s about money and turf? I asked Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and a Romney rival for the 2012 Republican nomination, to help make sense of it.
“I can’t help but think there’s a little bit of follow the money here,” Mr Huntsman told me. Mr Romney was the last nominee, he explained, and therefore he controlled the money. And now all of a sudden, Mr Romney – this is my version here – is starting to see his donors checking out the hot new thing (as much as Jeb Bush can be the hot new thing), and he’s getting nervous, and thinking maybe he wants them back.
“And listen,” Mr Huntsman continued, “[money] in politics is equity. You know, what is your leverage as a politician – or as a player – in party politics? It’s what kind of money you bring to the table.”
“Ann believes that if someone can make a difference they should, and she believes very, very strongly that Mitt is capable of making a difference. I’ve heard her express that fundamental concept again and again,” said Grant Bennett, a friend of the couple who succeeded Mr. Romney as bishop in the Mormon Church in Belmont, Mass…
When Dennis King, an old friend of Mr. Romney’s, attended a California fund-raiser during the 2008 race, he asked Mrs. Romney why her husband was subjecting himself to the indignities of modern political campaigning.
“That’s what God wanted him to do,” Mr. King said she had responded.