He’s back! Well, at least he’s talking like maybe he’s back. Mitt Romney threw the Republican 2016 presidential race into a frenzy of joy and foreboding when he let it be known that he’s talking to donors about another run for the White House.
After months of saying no, the failed 2012 GOP nominee found himself being drawn back to the stage. Polls showed him leading the Republican pack of as many as two dozen possible presidential wannabes. Never mind that those results could be reflecting name recognition as much as anything else.
Surveys also disclosed regret among large segments of voters over their ballots to re-elect President Barack Obama. That turnaround in sentiment was inspired by events of the last two years demonstrating candidate Romney had been right about so many domestic and international issues, while Obama was wrong. Romney understood the threats of Islamist jihadism and Russian boss Valdimir Putin’s revanchist ambitions in a way that’s just not in Obama’s DNA.
His many admirers think Romney remains the best man for these dangerous times. Yet, many in the Republican Party recoiled at the idea, saying the former Massachusetts governor and wealthy, successful business executive had his chance and failed to win a winnable contest.
Count me among Romney’s admirers. I think America would be in a much better place domestically and internationally were he president. While I have huge confidence in his qualities as a leader in the White House, I have doubts about his abilities as candidate.
Another run would require Romney to show how he could handle the obstacles that he stumbled over so miserably last time: his 47 percent comment, his failure to defend his business experience and explain big finance’s role in prosperity, his reluctance to disclose tax forms, his inability to connect with so many middle class Americans and the poor, his perceived hostility to immigration that may play well with the GOP base but doesn’t seem appealing to more moderate voters.
Winning the presidency after being a losing nominee is a hard, usually unsuccessful ambition. Recall Adlai Stevenson’s two failed runs against President Eisenhower. Two who did it — Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon — had lost close elections, which wasn’t the case for Romney.
Another problem is obviously Romney wouldn’t be a fresh face. That applies as well to Jeb Bush, who started this whole early GOP sweepstakes off with an announcement of his interest, and Hillary Clinton, the all but anointed Democrat nominee.
Being a fresh face isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some GOP newcomers to the national scene considering making the race are Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Texas. They are first-term U.S. senators. That’s exactly what Obama was when he was elected. How’s that kind of background worked out for the country?
The Republicans might be better off looking at their crop of governors, such as Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mike Pence of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio. Christie’s successful campaigning as head of the Republican governors’ association last year earned him a lot of chits. Walker has chalked up an impressive record of reform in taking on public unions and surviving two elections despite nationally funded labor and Democratic campaigns against him. Pence is a well regarded conservative. Kasich has been elected twice in an important battleground state. No doubt other names could be added to this list.
Romney shares with them executive experience in government with the bonus of a hugely successful business career. But does he have what it takes to be a winning candidate?