Mitt Romney is keeping a very high profile this midterm-election season by campaigning coast to coast for Republicans, and two recent polls suggest why he might be encouraged to stay active in politics. Romney and his family say Mitt will not be running for president in 2016, but in August the two-time presidential candidate and 2012 GOP nominee made sure to add, “Circumstances can change.”
GOP strategist Mark McKinnon describes what what those changing circumstances could look like. “If Jeb Bush or Chris Christie do not run,” McKinnon tells National Review Online, “then one could make an argument for Mitt Romney.”
A Romney three-peat would add another taste to an already spicy political stew that will start to heat up the day after the midterm elections. Could Romney be the key ingredient?
The RealClearPolitics (RCP) poll averages for the 2016 GOP nomination indicate that the top four contenders are virtually tied with primary voters. The leader is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky with 11.8%, followed closely by former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 11.6%. In third place is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee at 11.3%, and trailing is New Jersey governor Chris Christie at 10.6%. Mitt Romney’s name is currently not included in RCP’s 2016 Republican nomination poll averages.
But Romney’s name was included in a mid-October ABC News/Washington Post poll of GOP hopefuls, and he earned a whopping 21% of primary-voter support. That number was more than double the 10% earned by Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee, who tied at second place. The rest of the pack was in single digits. Those surprising results sparked talk of a Romney comeback.
With all that chatter in mind, McKinnon’s “argument for Romney” does indeed have validity if Jeb Bush and Chris Christie do not run — and even more if they do.
For within GOP circles, Bush and Christie are considered “establishment candidates,” and the conservative wing of the party is fed up with establishment candidates. This attitude is a direct result of three failed “moderate” establishment presidential nominees: Dole in 1996, McCain in 2008, and Romney in 2012.
Conservatives believe all three were sold to them as the GOP’s best chance of winning the general election. From those losses stem current conservative distrust and zero enthusiasm for another establishment presidential candidate.
Conversely, it is highly unlikely that the GOP leadership will allow a controversial conservative or inexperienced fringe candidate to head the national ticket. This conflict between the establishment and the conservatives could make the 2016 GOP nomination process long and very contentious.
Take Jeb Bush, whose last name is already a potential problem. The news that Jeb Bush is seriously thinking about running for the nomination elicits a collective “no way” from base voters. At conservative events, I often hear the phrase “shoved down our throats” whenever Bush’s or Christie’s name is mentioned for 2016.
If Bush and Christie fail to gain traction among a majority of primary voters and the same fate awaits Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Paul Ryan, to name a few of the eleven candidates listed in RCP’s nomination poll, the argument for Romney begins to take shape.
The former Massachusetts governor could be thought of as a safety net that a polarized GOP hopes never to use but is sure glad to have in reserve. He’s a potential compromise candidate all sides could live with though no one is thrilled about.
Romney becomes even more promising when he is matched against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic-party nominee.
Both Romney and Clinton have experience running national campaigns and were accused of running bad campaigns. In 2016, presumably each will have learned from past mistakes, and the level of campaign management and messaging would be evenly matched.
Romney and Clinton are both multi-millionaires, so the populist argument of “too rich to relate to me” would have no traction. (In fact, one can hardly wait to see the Clintons’ tax returns.)
The two are equally able to raise the sum of more than one billion dollars that will be needed to run a presidential campaign in 2016.
Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton are the same age. Born in 1947, they will both be 69 years old in 2016, so age is off the table as an issue.
In 2008 both Clinton and Romney were rejected by their parties, so they have learned and grown from that experience. Romney’s loss in 2012 was also a character-building exercise. Now he has fought his way back into the public arena with grace, humility, and class. The same could be said of Clinton after her 2008 loss.
Clinton (and now Romney again) are rock stars in their respective parties. They have that intangible gravitas, and both are respected nationally and on the world stage.
Predictably, both Clinton and Romney would be decrying Obama’s policies, but here Romney – though he pioneered the Obamacare model of universal health care with an individual mandate in the Bay State in 2006 — might have an advantage. Hillary, as secretary of state, was part of Obama’s administration and is already having a tough time trying to separate herself from Obama and his policies.
Romney, on the other hand, is a Republican and an experienced businessman who represents the power of a free-market economy to lead the way in solving national problems. His message of better management, smaller government, fewer regulations, less entitlement, and more opportunity did not work in 2012, but it can only become more appealing after voters have had four more years of Obama.
On the other hand, the Obama administration has proven that big government’s inability to fix anything. Just by virtue of being Democrats, the Clintons can run only as champions of big government.
These potential contrasting messages of Romney and Clinton would have rung true even before Hillary’s “October surprise,” when Clinton said, “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”
Clinton made this unartful statement last week while campaigning in Massachusetts for Martha Coakley, who is running for Mitt Romney’s old job as governor.
Clinton has since tried to clarify her remarks, but the passionate video stands forever.
Hillary’s zinger, insulting to all American business owners, has the potential to match Mitt’s disastrous 47% comment from the 2012 campaign.
This October surprise, two years early, played into the Republican narrative that this kind of wrongheaded Democrat thinking is harmful to America’s future.
Romney the businessman is a strong spokesman to counter this anti-capitalist message. Will this new development keep Mitt salivating over that spicy 2016 political stew into which Hillary has just dumped an entire bottle of Tabasco?
Drink lots of water, folks, because the 2016 race is going to get very hot, very fast.
Cross-posted at National Review Online