Almost cut short my vacation to blog this poll. But even the Internet’s premier “Romney 2016?” trollblogger needs to rest sometimes, my friends.
The most interesting crosstab here, incidentally, isn’t that Romney takes 33 percent of the Republican vote from Trump. It’s how well he does among younger adults aged 18-39. Huh:
He leads Trump and is within 11 points of Hillary? Double huh. Probably for that reason, he also does better than you’d think in peeling off Democrats from Clinton:
I’d have guessed that Trump would do better with the #NeverHillary left given that he overlaps a bit with Bernie Sanders on trade, but here’s ol’ Mitt Romney cracking double digits while Trump trudges along at eight percent. That explains why the race remains a toss-up with Romney running as an independent even though, you would think, his entry would damage Trump significantly by peeling off conservative votes. There’s a contingent of younger voters, many of them Democrats, who are so firmly anti-Hillary that they’ll leap at a third-party candidate — even if he happens to be the 2012 Republican nominee. Presumably that effect will fade once the Clinton-Sanders rift heals, which would mean Romney’s numbers dropping and Clinton’s inflating. A Clinton 43, Trump 40, Romney 13 outcome seems more in line with what you’d expect in the general election.
#NeverTrump righties are excited about the numbers, though. Jennifer Rubin published a plea today for Romney to get in, as did Jamie Weinstein. (Tea partier Erick Erickson posted one over the weekend, before the poll came out, which ended with, “I can’t believe I’m even writing this.”) Romney’s supposedly not interested and has given up trying to recruit someone else, but I continue to believe that this logic, expressed by Weinstein, is weighing on him:
But if he wants to be something more than a historical footnote, something more memorable, this is his opportunity. History beckons. The two major party presumptive presidential nominees are terrible, both boasting record high unfavorable ratings. The Democrat is a compulsive liar who struggles to name a single accomplishment of any worth. The Republican is an even more compulsive liar who has proposed economic policies that could bring on an economic depression. Even more alarming, he seems infatuated with the power dictators wield and, dictator-like, has mused about altering the First Amendment to prevent publications from criticizing him…
But even in a losing effort, Romney can forge a legacy far greater than anything he has created to date. For starters, he would prevent a liberal authoritarian from becoming the face of conservatism. Most importantly, he would prevent Trump from getting anywhere near the White House. America might suffer under a President Clinton. But a President Trump might well prove a threat to the American system itself.
You don’t have to take my word for why that line of thinking might appeal to Romney. Just read the guy’s speech from March — “Trump is a phony, a fraud” whose “brand of anger … has led other nations into the abyss.” Blocking him from the nomination, as Romney described it, was practically a patriotic duty. If keeping him out of the White House was that important two months ago, and if Romney’s the only Republican left who’s realistically able to keep him out now, how is not his patriotic duty to enter the race and give voters a third option between Trump and Clinton? Right, right — there are ballot deadlines and fundraising obstacles, and so on. The point of Romney’s speech, though, was that one does what one can in a crisis like this even if the reward from most people is scorn. Well, there’s one last thing he could do. And imagine the enjoyment he’d get out of showing up blowhards like Rick Perry, who ran as a “true conservative” last year and has ended up shining Trump’s shoes now.
I wonder, in fact, if the surprising tightness in the early polls isn’t an added inducement to him. If Hillary was up big right now, with Trump looking every bit the sure loser that some #NeverTrumpers have pegged him as, Romney could shrug and walk away in the belief that there’s nothing he can do to affect the outcome. Why jump in and endure months of abuse by peeling off conservative votes from Trump if Clinton’s going to win comfortably either way? With the race close, though, an eleventh-hour Romney run becomes hugely consequential. Not only would his entry restore Hillary to a lead, it would complicate Trump’s strategy for a relentless attack on Clinton this fall. He’d have to guard his right flank by attacking Romney as well — and Romney would have to decide whether to focus mainly on Trump or equally on Clinton, if only to keep up appearances that he’s trying to win rather than tip the election to the Democrat. (Worth noting: One of the arguments Romney gave in his March speech for denying Trump the nomination was that it would assure a Hillary Clinton victory in November. If Hillary winning is that unthinkable, why would Romney encourage any other conservative to run third-party, let alone consider it himself?) What you might see if he ran is an early all-out assault on Trump over the summer in order to try to pass him among Republican voters; if he managed to do that, other GOP voters who mildly prefer Trump might tilt to Romney instead as the stronger candidate to beat Hillary and you’d end up with something like a Clinton 43, Romney 33, Trump 23 outcome. Romney could still hypothetically be president in that scenario by denying Hillary 270 electoral votes and moving the election to the House — but, er, which blue states that Hillary is supposed to win is she going to lose because Romney’s in the race? If anything, her path to 270 will be easier, not harder, thanks to the split vote on the right.
Exit question: Would Romney be more likely to run if the GOP leadership hadn’t quickly coalesced behind Trump? Ryan’s the only major holdout. Reince Priebus recently described the idea of a third-party candidacy as a suicide mission. Mitt would get a lot of flak from his pals in the establishment for tripping up their new boyfriend Trump, which would leave him without any base in the party — except, ironically, for the conservative #NeverTrumpers who disdained him in 2012 and would embrace him now, a la Erickson, as movement conservatism’s last gasp.