Third Time Wouldn’t Be a Charm for Romney Print
By Troy Senik
Thursday, January 15 2015
Even Romney’s critics would probably concede that the man’s conduct in public life has been consistently dignified and reserved. Why blow that now?

Time heals all wounds. Unless, of course, you insist on picking the scab. That’s a lesson that Mitt Romney never seems to have learned.

Over the past week, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee has arrived back on the front pages by stoking rumors that he might be pursuing a third consecutive presidential bid in 2016. It’s all a little puzzling: Why ruin a perfectly good divorce by trying to get back together again?

It’s not Romney’s ambition that’s mystifying. Embalming fluid, as they say, is the only cure for presidential fever. What’s genuinely baffling is how he imagines this scenario might play out. Just because you want it doesn’t mean that you can get it. And if Mitt Romney couldn’t jimmy the White House lock in 2012, it’s hard to see how he could do so in 2016.

In analyzing Romney’s standing with Republican voters, it’s essential to remember this: The party’s conservative base turned backflips in 2012 trying to find any other plausible candidate

Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum all had brief moments at the front of the presidential pack as the right searched for someone — anyone — who went down smoother than a candidate whose signature public policy achievement was devising a health care reform plan that created the blueprint for ObamaCare. 

Only when each of those contenders had flamed out — only when Romney had effectively fatigued conservatives into accepting him — was he able to secure the party’s nomination.

It’d be difficult to imagine an atmosphere less like the 2012 race than 2016 is likely to be. At present, it looks like Republicans may be choosing from the largest, most accomplished field of presidential aspirants with which they’ve ever been presented. 

The list of potential candidates at this point includes Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker — any one of whom on their own could have had a plausible shot at knocking off Romney in 2012. 

Indeed, it’s a sign of just how deep this field is that the announcement earlier this week that 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan will be foregoing the race elicited only the mildest of interest. In that highly competitive environment, an unloved Romney doesn’t have a chance.

Suppose for a moment, however, that he somehow pulled the nomination out. Is this the man the GOP wants to rally behind in a general election? Nothing has occurred since 2012 to alleviate the right’s fears that Romney’s conservatism is tepid at best. And it’s not as if he simply drew a bad hand the last time around. Barack Obama’s approval ratings were mired in the 40s for nearly an entire year prior to the 2012 election. He was vulnerable. And Mitt Romney couldn’t close the sale. 

So why is Mitt thinking about taking one more shot? Probably in part because he doesn’t understand quite how dependent public sentiment is on context. Whatever ambivalence conservatives may have felt about Romney during his time as the GOP nominee largely fell away in the aftermath of his defeat. 

That process was only accelerated by the release of the Netflix documentary Mitt, which presented a far more relatable figure than the one who had twice pursued the presidency. For the first time in years, Romney began to receive something like genuine affection from the right.

Maybe Mitt thought that Republicans were suddenly realizing the error of their ways. Maybe he didn’t realize that it’s easy (not to mention humane) to think the best about an ex — but that’s not the same thing as wanting to take one back. 

Most Republicans acknowledge that Romney is a decent, generous, upstanding man — the kind of guy you wouldn’t think twice about having watch your kids. There’s a big gap, however, between that and believing he should be the leader of their party — and conceivably the free world.

Even Romney’s critics would probably concede that the man’s conduct in public life has been consistently dignified and reserved. Why blow that now? Why be the quarterback who can’t accept it’s time to retire?

Mitt Romney has had his moment. The Republican Party has moved on. Now it’s time for him to do the same.