Will Mitt run again?
Certainly no one would have expected it on Nov. 7, 2012, but as establishment Republicans assess their chances of retaking the Oval Office, some are looking longingly at one Mitt Romney.
The fact that Romney, who lost an election that several well-regarded economic models predicted he would win, is considered the fairest in this political “Judgment of Paris” tells you just how unconvincing the rest of the possible GOP field is.
No, it’s not quite the “Gong Show” gathering of 2012, but Jeb Bush is the only instantly credible GOP heavyweight who’s even mulling a run, and he’s deeply ambivalent. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie once seemed like he could become a strong contender, but though he has so far weathered the George Washington Bridge scandal, that episode has highlighted enough unsavory aspects of his administration that he no longer looks like someone who could win over independents.
As for the GOP’s other might-be candidates, while several could be president of Tea Party Land, it’s hard to imagine any of them winning a national election in the actual country.
So it’s not so much that Romney truly looms large as that the others stand short.
Romney, of course, has disavowed any interest (though a little less emphatically than was the case a few months back). That’s what you’d expect at this stage, of course. And yet, close observers don’t think the door has been slammed, locked, and barricaded shut.
“If Jeb and Christie don’t run, and George W. Bush, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Haley Barbour, and Reince Priebus all came and said, ‘You have to do it for the good of the country,’ he would think about it,” says one adviser.
If, in other words, Romney were essentially drafted for the job, something that hasn’t happened in decades.
And yet, this person has put his finger on something essential to Romney’s psyche: He likes to believe that his various political career moves are about answering the call to service rather than personal ambition.
When he came back to Massachusetts after the 2002 Winter Olympics were over and launched a gubernatorial bid he and his team had been mulling for some time, Romney proclaimed he was responding to a call from Massachusetts Republicans.
“I did not expect to be standing before you today — what an extraordinary grass-roots draft movement,” he said in his convention speech. “I heard your voice way out in Salt Lake.”
Similarly, the way Romney tells it, it was Ann who persuaded him he had to wage his first campaign, a Senate run against Ted Kennedy. And his family who prevailed upon him to run (again) in 2012, on the grounds that the country needed him. That campaign, he said in an interview earlier this year, was “about putting ourselves forward to try and help the country at a ... a critical time, and where the background and skills I have, we think, were a good match for what the country needed.”
So if there actually were a widespread call among Republicans — that is, if the voices Romney’s hopeful hearing frequently picks up were actually audible to others as well — that would prove immensely gratifying to a man who likes to think of himself as riding in on a white horse to save the day.
Further, because rejection and defeat are hard for Romney to accept, he’s prone to searching for rationalizations to salve his wounds. After his 1994 loss to Ted Kennedy, for example, Romney told people he had commissioned a poll that concluded voters would have decided differently had they realized those midterm elections would give Republicans control of Congress.
Since his 2012 loss, he and Ann have certainly been willing to highlight what they see as President Obama’s failures. Although they don’t quite say it, one gets the feeling that they think voters would like a do-over.
Is that enough to get him to run again?
In the end, I doubt it. And yet, I wouldn’t completely rule it out — no matter what Romney is saying right now.
Scot Lehigh is a columnist for The Boston Globe.