I was reading AP’s extensive tea leaves analysis of yesterday’s Romney news last night, as well as the overwhelming flood of support for the Mitt 2016 movement in the comments section, (/sarc) and I’m still left with a number of questions. To wrap my head around the ins and outs of this, it feels like we have to be able to separate the questions of qualifications and potential from the optics and the political realities. While it probably doesn’t say anything terribly flattering about the state of American politics to admit this, those are two very separate issues and campaigns can rise and fall without the two being terribly intertwined.
In terms of qualifications, nothing has changed – at least for me – between the fall of 2012 and now. Particularly when juxtaposed with our experience of the last eight years, I still believe that Mitt Romney has the capacity to be not only a good, but probably a great president. I didn’t have to hold my nose to vote for Mitt in 2012. The recent history of the world, particularly in terms of foreign policy, has shown Mitt to be fairly prescient, and I believe he would have the courage to lead from those convictions even when faced with unpopular choices. His qualifications in terms of the economy were never in doubt for me. Yes, there were some questions about his early decisions regarding socialized medicine and similar issues, but you never find a candidate who checks every box perfectly and he probably learned from those mistakes. Mitt is simply a good man, in my opinion.
Sadly, a lot of good men never get the chance to lead because they just aren’t cut out for the realities of the campaign trail. In this area, I’m afraid that Romney is something of a lame duck, though I’m using that term in a very different way than how it’s applied to the final years of an elected official’s term. Some of Mitt’s supporters will claim that there is no better school for the campaign battlefield than having been through the grind already, and there is definite wisdom in that sentiment. Were it the only consideration, Romney would be the ideal candidate, having lost twice already. But there is also the issue of trying to sell a “new car” which has has been beaten up by one too many test drives. Mitt has a collection of nicks and dings from the last time out on the track which have not been buffed out and his opponent will be able to resurrect them all too easily.
Perhaps Mitt’s biggest mistake from 2012 was allowing the opponent to define him in the public’s eye well in advance of when he finally finished a bruising, extended primary battle. There are countless hours of footage sitting in DNC video lockers just waiting to be trotted out and spliced into a greatest hits show. I know that there are are already promises in the wind that Mitt will be different this time, but that’s a pretty tall order to bank on. Romney’s rather wooden performances on the stump – while nowhere near as bad as Al Gore in 2000 – were not some minor tick that can be worked out of the patient with a few more therapy sessions. It’s part and parcel of who he is. And his rather bourgeoisie persona was not entirely a media creation. His affection for “sport” and the struggle he seemed to embody when trying to relate to the plight of the working class are easy targets.
We can sit here and hash out the the various fundraising scenarios all day long, figuring out if a Mitt run helps Cruz, hurts Jeb or keeps Walker on the sidelines. Those are valid discussions, but I’ll leave them for AP to sort out with you. For the moment I’m just trying to look ahead to the summer and fall of 2016 and a showdown between Romney and Hillary, particularly after she’s been forced a bit further into the populist pigeonhole by the increasingly powerful Warren wing of her party. Honestly, I’m not liking what I’m seeing. Without any scientific basis for this conclusion, it just feels like it’s time for some new blood if we don’t want another Clinton in the White House. I don’t know yet if that’s a Tea Party march with somebody like Cruz or another establishmentarian run with a Walker or a Christie, but I think we need some new blood to light up the electorate. (I might have included Ryan there had he not already pulled the plug.)
I still have all the respect in the world for Mitt, but his time has come and gone. He can still play an important role in the national discussion and will certainly be able to help steer some significant fundraising operations, but I think he should keep his hat out of the ring this time.