My hackery is large, it contains multitudes.
If they’re going to do these “Mitt’s thinking about it!” pieces for the next eight months, all I ask is that they be candid about his motivations. Every Romney story lately revolves around some nonsense about how he thinks the field — which consists of exactly zero candidates at the moment — is too unsettled, how his 20 or so prospective opponents are all conveniently fatally flawed, and therefore, goshdarnit, he might have no choice but to run to save the GOP. Let’s cut to it: The guy wants to run. He’s been running for 20 years. Whether that’s because his ambition is unquenchable, because he feels obliged to live his old man’s dream, or because it bugs him to see Jeb Bush and Christie supplant him potentially as de facto leader of the Republican establishment, I don’t know. I don’t begrudge him his personal psychodrama; he’s entitled to rationalize this impulse however he likes. But the media doesn’t need to play along with the “Romney as selfless savior” narrative.
The latest justification, aimed at Bush, is even more feeble than the idea that a field that includes Christie, Paul, Cruz, Walker, Jindal, and either Jeb or Marco Rubio, plus another half-dozen well known former governors or senators, can’t make Republican dreams come true like Mitt Romney, landslide loser of the last election, can.
In his private musings, Romney has sounded less than upbeat about most of the potential candidates in the 2016 Republican field, according to the people who’ve spoken with him, all of whom asked for anonymity in order to speak freely.
He has assessed various people’s strengths and weaknesses dispassionately, wearing what one ally called his “consultant cap” to measure the field. He has said, among other things, that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, would run into problems because of his business dealings, his work with the investment banks Lehman Brothers and Barclays, and his private equity investments.
“You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital],” he has said, referring to the devastating attacks that his Republican rivals and President Barack Obama’s team launched against him for his time in private equity, according to three sources familiar with the line. “What do you think they’ll do to [Bush] over Barclays?”…
“I came away from the conversation with the distinct impression that he was running and that he did not think anyone in the field right now was particularly strong,” said one top executive who met with Romney [in New York recently] and requested not to be identified while speaking about a private conversation.
Follow the link up top for more tea leaves, including the exciting possibility that Romney’s “body language” has changed when he talks about running now.
As for his knock on Jeb, you tell me how a candidate whose private equity work leaves him vulnerable to being dubbed “Romney-lite” logically means we should go all-in with Mitt Romney himself. It’d be like McCain eyeing Rubio, deciding that he’s too hawkish and too pro-amnesty to win, and then somehow concluding that the only obvious move for the GOP is to nominate McCain himself again. The best argument for preferring rich financier Mitt to not-quite-as-rich financier Jeb is, as Ed Kilgore says, that Romney’s a known quantity after 2012. Much like Hillary herself, he’s as vetted at this point as a national candidate can be; Dems (not to mention conservatives) would be stuck recycling old attacks against him and old attacks never do as much damage as when they’re fresh. Fair enough, but it’s not just that Romney is a known quantity. He’s a known quantity that the public doesn’t much like. Despite the good publicity he got from the Netflix documentary on his campaign, despite the consensus (certainly on the right) that he’s a good man notwithstanding his political sins, his favorable rating is still slightly underwater. And his numbers right now are likely only as high as they are because he’s assumed an “elder statesman” role for the moment that no one on either side much objects to. What happens once he jumps in and is back in the fray, threatening Ted Cruz on the right and Hillary Clinton on the left? And what happens when — and this is a “when,” not an “if” — he reverses himself on “self-deportation” and decides amnesty’s a fine and decent thing to do after all? Kilgore claims that Mitt has “made his peace with the movement conservatives who originally opposed him in 2012.” See how long that lasts once immigration comes up at the first debate.
Whatever Jeb’s faults, he’ll have the same advantage over Romney that everyone else in the field will have — the ability to help shape how the public views him. The bad part of being a known quantity is that there’s not much you can do to change how national voters already you, whether for good or ill. Romney will be able to crow that he made several prescient statements in the last campaign (most notably about the threat from Russia) that should give the public more confidence in him as a visionary, but I don’t know. How many Scott Walker fans are switching votes because Romney said Putin is our number one geopolitical foe?
Anyway, one more dubious point from the Politico story. Later in the story, the authors claim that some people who’ve chatted with Romney lately are no longer sure if he’s sticking with his plan to jump in if and only if Jeb passes or if he’s grown so enthusiastic about running that he might jump in regardless of what Jeb does. Really? How would that work? How would jumping in early, before Bush or anyone else has had a chance to introduce himself to voters, square with the “reluctant savior rescues GOP from weak field” narrative that Romney’s pushing as an excuse to justify his candidacy? Two things seem clear to me: One, Jeb will certainly make his decision before Mitt does, if only because Romney doesn’t want to seem too eager, and two, Jeb’s inclined to run. That means if Romney gets in, he’ll be running against Bush — which would utterly destroy the establishment dream of uniting behind one big-name candidate early in the race. So either this latest “Mitt’s thinking about it!” belch is all hot air, maybe just a way to nudge the donor class not to go running to Christie if Jeb decides to pass since there’s still a chance that Mitt will run, or there’s some secret effort by Romney’s people behind the scenes in the “invisible primary” among donors to pressure rich Republicans to throw in with him and not Jeb. Only by convincing Bush early that he’d be starved of cash if he ran might Mitt convince him not to bother running at all. But really, how likely is it that the son of one George Bush and the brother of another would end up strapped for dough, even if Romney challenged him? C’mon.