I have been reading it for months online, and I continually dismissed it. It sounded like the sort of thing that bored political bloggers write about when all they know about is presidential races, and that’s hardly the purpose of this blog (we're all about the midterms, yo!). But as the year has dragged on, and people keep talking about him, it’s hard to deny that there’s at least a real movement in the GOP to try it one more time: will Mitt Romney run again in 2016?
Admittedly, I kind of see where people are coming from. There are certain things that Mitt Romney has seen some redemption on in the past few years. Russia continually provides headaches for the United States, which Romney declared would happen. Romney’s views on immigration are suddenly resonating with a large swath of Americans watching the border crisis on the news. And of course, there’s that tried and true “Romney would have won if the election were held today” set of polling that comes out when presidents hit their six-year-itch midterms (though that hardly meant the Democrats should have run Kerry in 2008).
The Republicans do indeed need a bit of guidance headed into 2016. One of the things the Democrats have really benefited from since 2004 (the last time there was a truly multi-candidate primary for the party) is a clear set of leaders: Obama, the Clintons, Reid, and Pelosi have dominated the party in an overarching way, and they are all roughly the same politically and in their approach to winning, which helps to keep the party looking tidy. The Republicans are all over-the-map politically from the business-minded conservatives (Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie) to the radical right (Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin) to the libertarian wing (Rand Paul) to trying to be everything at once (Marco Rubio). Mitt Romney manages to be someone who can appeal to most of those wings of the party-he’s loved by the business wing, but still socially conservative-he hits most of the buttons for a party desperate not to endorse someone from an opposing camp. There’s also the fact that electing Romney, from a psychological standpoint, would be the closest the GOP will ever get to defeating Barack Obama, a wildly unpopular president with their caucus; electing the guy whom Obama beat four years later would be a swift kick-in-the-pants to the outgoing president.
But with all of these polls and articles coming out, it’s time to throw some cold water on this argument: Mitt Romney would be a terrible candidate for 2016. For starters, you frequently have to look at how a candidate compares to their opponent, and Hillary Clinton is aided greatly by Mitt Romney. Romney did abysmally with women (Hillary only benefits further in that regard) and eliminates all of her most obvious non-partisan negatives. Say goodbye to the age angle (Romney is a few months older than Hillary), the money angle (Romney’s richer than the Clintons, likely the only candidate on the GOP side who could claim that), and the “something new” angle (Romney’s ran-and-lost three times for the GOP and won’t have held office for ten years come the next inauguration).
Mitt Romney, let’s not forget, was also a terrible candidate. He was awkward, he was too stodgy, he was too forced on the campaign trail. One of the things that people forget when they do the Romney vs. Obama polls in 2014 is that you aren’t comparing two candidates at that point, you’re comparing Obama vs. someone else, which is a much harder sell (theoretical candidates always do better than actual ones). Romney on the campaign trail talked of binders of women and built an entire convention around a gaffe. He’s also been in the public eye for decades and hasn’t been able to make that connection with voters, and his wife is not likable. This is a couple that you don’t want to have a beer with, and though it’s cheeky and gleeful for the Republicans to postulate that the man that lost two years ago could win this year, it’s not very likely. The problems of 2012 may not plague Republicans in the same way now, but they still plague Mitt and Ann Romney.
It’s also worth noting that comeback bids very rarely work once you’ve gotten as high as Mitt Romney. Richard Nixon is frequently cited whenever a failed opponent decides that he might want to return for another crack at the White House, but that’s because he’s the only recent example. Republicans are very forgiving when it comes to losing a primary (Bob Dole, John McCain, and Romney himself had all run in previous primaries before landing their party’s nomination), but they don’t like to re-nominate their eventual nominees. Gerald Ford, for example, couldn’t make rumors of a comeback work in 1980 in the face of overwhelming support for Ronald Reagan. John McCain wasn’t even mentioned in 2012, despite wanting to be president his entire life. The primary reason that Nixon won in 1968 was that being a party man still held a lot of weight back then, but that’s hardly something you can boast with Romney. Even if he campaigns for every successful Republican in 2014, the GOP is too overrun by outsiders to allow that to be a major factor (if you could win the nomination just by controlling the party bosses, Jeb Bush would have the nomination all sewn up).
Lastly, I want to point out the field that Romney barely beat in 2012 was awful and he had trouble tackling it. Despite being clearly the most palatable of the nominees running, the likes of Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich all managed to overrun him or near him in the polls throughout the race. This is a man who couldn’t beat the C-list of Republican candidates. What happens when you have Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie, the A-list of the GOP, running against him? He looks like something of the past, a relic, and not a pleasant nostalgic one like Hillary Clinton is for the Democrats. He becomes the guy who let Obama win a second term, and there’s no higher crime these days in the GOP. Mitt Romney can be chatted up all he wants, but he will never be president.