The seemingly endless speculation about Mitt Romney’s prospects in 2016 needs to stop. He’s gotten more press coverage than any Republican who has already lost one general election loser in recent memory, and need I remind you, that general election loss was against what was supposed to be a historically weak incumbent President. Even so, the lessons of history seem to be lost on the chattering classes.
Given Romney’s establishment credentials and his electoral lack of credentials, it should be no surprise that we can count the mainstream media among the most prominent voices pushing for another run. The National Journal sums it up well:
Politicos are abuzz with talk of a third Mitt Romney presidential run. The former Massachusetts governor is the second-most-written-about would-be candidate in the GOP, according to a Pew Research Center report released Tuesday.
Pew surveyed 15 top newspapers, including TheNew York Times, TheWashington Post, TheDenver Post and TheTampa Bay Times, for stories focusing on specific candidates’ possible 2016 bids.
I expect this sort of attention from them. After all, we know about their bias. It’s the conservative commentators pushing his candidacy that I expect to know better. National Reivew‘s pro-Romney leanings are so well known that “NRO” in some circles is said to stand for “National Romney Online”, and they’ve lost no time pushing him for 2016. In an article that appeared on Monday, Myra Adams tries to build a case for Romney against Hillary two years from now, but even she acknowledges his shortcomings:
The former Massachusetts governor could be thought of as a safety net that a polarized GOP hopes never to use but is sure glad to have in reserve. He’s a potential compromise candidate all sides could live with though no one is thrilled about.
The case she tries to build seems to hinge on the fact that Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton are similar in many ways. Both are multi-millionaires, both will be 69 in 2016, both were rejected by their parties in 2008, both are “rock stars” in their parties*, and both are decrying Obama’s policies. Adams doesn’t mention it, but both Romney and Clinton have their names attached to government takeovers of healthcare, even if Hillarycare flamed out before it could be enacted.
Let me ask you, is “He’s a lot like Hillary Clinton!” an argument that makes any conservative feel enthusiastic about a candidate? The problem with articles like Adams’ is that making a case for a “last ditch” candidate right out of the gate is that it sets a low expectations and dampens conservative enthusiasm. Rather than talk about a candidate who has a lot in common with Hillary Clinton this early in the 2016 cycle, why aren’t we emphasizing the ones who can draw a sharp contrast to her flaws? Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ], and Scott Walker are all top tier conservative choices, and just below them we have names like Nikki Haley and Mike Pence. Depending on the person you ask, [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] and [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] tend to show up somewhere on those lists as well. All of them would do a lot more to excite people than a two time retread like Romney.
Beyond merely rhetorical arguments, the argument for Mitt Romney in 2016 gets even bleaker when we look at the numbers. Looking at the numbers from the 2012 election,there’s a lot that’s troubling. Barack Obama was the weakest incumbent President since Jimmy Carter, but Romney didn’t merely lose a nailbiter like Richard Nixon in 1960 or Al Gore in 2000. Romney lost by almost 4% in the popular vote (51.1% to 47.2%) and 126 Electoral College votes (332 to 206).
Why the underperformance? Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics came under some not insignificant fire for noting that many white voters evidently just decided to stay home. Using Trende’s numbers, RedState’s Dan McLaughlin created this chart to show the difference in turnout levels for all major racial groups:
Here’s what Trende observes:
Had the same number of white voters cast ballots in 2012 as did in 2008, the 2012 electorate would have been about 74 percent white, 12 percent black, and 9 percent Latino (the same result occurs if you build in expectations for population growth among all these groups). In other words, the reason this electorate looked so different from the 2008 electorate is almost entirely attributable to white voters staying home. The other groups increased their vote, but by less than we would have expected simply from population growth.
Put another way: The increased share of the minority vote as a percent of the total vote is not the result of a large increase in minorities in the numerator, it is a function of many fewer whites in the denominator.
However, there is a small error in his computations, and that’s with Asian voters. McLaughlin explains:
Trende finds about 70,000 Asian voters missing, when in fact Asian turnout was up enough that he should be showing about 575,000 extra Asian voters (I contacted Trende and he confirmed this). Asian voters are an oft-overlooked and growing piece of the puzzle, and they still turn out in very, very low numbers compared to their (still-small) share of the US population, but reaching out to them is an important consideration going forward. In any event, when you adjust for the proper counting of Asian voters, you find that it actually strengthens Trende’s thesis that white voter turnout was down relative to turnout of the major non-white voting blocs.
Trende puts these numbers to work when he looks at his home state of Ohio (you can check out his article for a map of his results). He found that the places where white turnout was down compared to 2008 were all rural counties that have been hit hard by the weak economy over the past several years. As he explains:
My sense is these voters were unhappy with Obama. But his negative ad campaign relentlessly emphasizing Romney’s wealth and tenure at Bain Capital may have turned them off to the Republican nominee as well. The Romney campaign exacerbated this through the challenger’s failure to articulate a clear, positive agenda to address these voters’ fears, and self-inflicted wounds like the “47 percent” gaffe. Given a choice between two unpalatable options, these voters simply stayed home.
McLaughlin takes the numbers beyond Ohio to other states in the Midwest and finds a similar pattern:
[A] significant number of others were in Pennsylvania (Obama by 309,840 votes out of 5.75 million cast), Ohio (Obama by 166,272 votes out of 5.59 million cast), Michigan (Obama by 449,313 votes out of 4.74 million cast), and Minnesota (Obama by 225,942 votes out of 2.94 million cast). This is consistent with Trende’s conclusion that – while these voters were not, in and of themselves, the cause of Romney’s loss – they were a contributing factor large enough to consider, and one that may loom even larger in a closer future contest between a better Republican candidate and a Democrat who has less visceral appeal to non-white voters. (The lower turnout throughout the Northeast also surely reflects the influence of Hurricane Sandy).
So, in addition to however suspicious conservatives are already of Romney’s political views, we find that many of the things Adams tells us not to worry about have already been deployed against Romney and appear to have been effective in dragging him underwater. She is right to note that Hillary shares many of Romney’s flaws, but how can we trust the media to point this out? We should know by now whose negatives they will be emphasizing. A candidate who encourages significant chunks of the population to stay home is not someone we should consider running for President in a general election, much less running a second time.
Moreover, nothing has changed to defuse the most important conservative criticism of Romney: that we cannot build a truly effective case against Obamacare from the foundation up when we run the guy who paved the way for it at the state level. Mitt can claim that he’d never support it at the national level, but that doesn’t nullify the fact that many of the same criticisms that can be made against Obamacare can be made against Romneycare. We already know that it didn’t rein in costs for Massachusetts, and earlier this year, the governor’s signature achievement was dealt a huge blow when Massachusetts decided to ditch the Romneycare exchanges.
To be fair to Myra Adams, who has always been friendly and helpful to me when I’ve interacted with her, I don’t mean to single her out alone for criticism. She’s only the most recent major conservative commentator building a case for Mitt Romney in 2016. Ann Coulter floated the idea back in April, Hugh Hewitt’s been riding the Romney train since 2008, and conservative actor Robert Davi made the case for him at Breitbart’s Big Hollywood back in September. They all, including Adams, have their reasons for doing so, but as I see it, Romney is a man whose time has come and gone. We’ve him fail twice in the pursuit of the Presidency already. There’s no reason to turn him into a modern day William Jennings Bryan, who failed all four times he ran.
To return to a point I made earlier, rather than focus so much of our time and (digital) ink on seeing if Romney will run again in 2016, we should be looking at our strong stable of candidates for 2016.** Of all the names I mentioned earlier, only one of them, Rick Perry, has run for the Presidency before. We have too many great conservatives who could run to spend our time worrying about safety nets, and if we, for whatever reason, must end up with an establishment candidate, let it be one of the fresher faces.
Romney is a great father and businessman, he seems to have genuine religious convictions, and his character is unimpeachable, but he can best serve the Republican Party by backing out of the limelight. Neither the Republican Party nor the country will be best served by another Romney candidacy, and if he does somehow become the Republican nominee in 2016, I can hardly blame conservatives if they come to the conclusion that the Republican Party truly has finally left them behind for good. I would be tempted to come to such a conclusion myself.
*=In the sense that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are still, technically, rock stars, I guess that’s true, although the Rolling Stones have clearly gathered some moss.
**=Anyone who tells you that the Republicans have a weak field in 2016 is either dishonest or ignorant. Either is inexcusable for a serious political commentator, regardless of whatever side of the political spectrum they occupy.