There’s some chatter about Mitt Romney for President again. He ‘s a man who wanted to be President, and he has had a terrific year. The Netflix documentary, various media appearances and the flap about statements regarding his black grandson have humanized him. The mess in Russia makes his hawkishness look prescient, and polls show that he’d win in a landslide against Obama if the election were held today. Investigations have hobbled prominent Governors planning to run for the office. And candidates for statewide office are eager to campaign with Romney, and to emphasize his endorsement.
Elite donors still like him. The biggest surprise may have been the encouragement from a Democrat, former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, who told reporters, “He would be a giant in a field of midgets.” It is a bit unusual for a potential Democratic candidate to attend a conference for a prominent Republican, and compliment him. Before Republicans consider the electoral strengths of a Romney/ Schweitzer unity ticket, it is worth noting other motives for Schweitzer’s actions. Since Romney seems unlikely to run, he could have just been laying the seeds for criticism of the Republican field. Republicans might say nice things about Joe Biden for the same reason. But it was an unusual quote.
While Romney made some obvious mistakes in 2012, it’s not clear that he was a bad candidate. He overperformed most Republican candidates for statewide office, and lost narrowly in the popular vote (the difference between him and Obama was less than 1/25th of the vote) in a political environment that favored Obama. The economy was improving, Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy was well-received, Osama Bin Laden was still dead and Americans have a tendency to support incumbents. The nominee in 2016 will run under historically more favorable circumstances, and Romney would have less of a learning curve than anyone else.
There are some significant negatives. He’s not exactly a fresh face, and a few months older than Hillary Clinton, so he wouldn’t be able to beat her the way Obama did in ’08. All of his political campaigns have meant that there are a lot of public statements to scrutinize and attack.
If Romney still wants to be president, this would be his last shot. It wouldn’t make sense for Romney to wait until 2020. It’s a few months before the 2016 primary is officially underway, and Romney’s considered such a strong contender because of a series of lucky breaks unlikely to repeat in a different environment. The field is fractured. Establishment frontrunners include a guy under investigation, and George W Bush’s little brother. He would have the advantage of name recognition, in addition to dedicated support in the business community and among Mormons. Plus, he would have an existing campaign infrastructure.
There are arguments that the political environment typically doesn’t favor General Election losers, although that is mainly due to the small sample set. The reasons that Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale and Bob Dole didn’t run for president again don’t apply to Mitt Romney. Looking at losers of presidential elections; Papa Bush, Ford and Carter were incumbent Presidents who lost. Dole and McCain were in their early 70s when nominated. Mondale, Mcgovern and Dukakis suffered more embarrassing losses.
That leaves Humphrey, Kerry and Gore. Gore didn’t want to run in 2004, even though he polled rather well. Humphrey came relatively close in 1972, losing to a candidate who ran a savvy campaign and had stronger appeal to the base.
Kerry’s biggest problem was the 2008 primary field. For a party that values diversity, he would have been the third choice, at best, in a group that included a young African American Senator and a female Senator with 100% name recognition and a popular husband. 2008 ended up being a long hard-fought primary, although that was between figures Democrats generally liked with similar policy positions. The 2016 Republican primary is likely to be more divided, which leaves more openings.
Kerry was also blamed for losing to George W Bush. Republicans hate Obama as much as Democrats hated Bush eight years ago, and there will be a section of the party that blames Romney for Obama’s reelection. However, Republicans do seem to have more respect for Obama’s political talent than Democrats had for Bush.
Romney might hope for similarities to Ronald Reagan, a former coastal Governor who won the presidency in his third go-around at age 69, fourteen years after first being elected to statewide office.
During the 2012 campaign, there were some comparisons between Romney and Dewey, a Northeastern Governor who ran a safe campaign against a troubled incumbent President and lost. His record of three presidential campaigns does not set an impressive precedent for Romney. Dewey ran for the Republican nomination in 1936, and lost. He then ran for the nomination in 1940 as a northeastern Governor, and won the nomination but lost the general. He sought the nomination again in 1944, and once again lost the general.
A third scenario is Al Smith, a northeastern governor who sought the nomination in 1924 and lost. He won the nomination four years later and lost the general. And he sought the nomination again in 1932 and lost in the effort. Romney would rather be Reagan than Dewey or Smith.