The suggestion Mitt Romney might make another run for the Presidency of the United States made me think of a line from one of my father’s novels: ‘There’s nothing so sad as the memory of lost fucks.’ There’s a measure of wistful sadness but also some wry resignation.
The obvious reaction is that, hey Mittens, third time ain’t no charm. Because that’s the way it’s supposed to work these days. You’re supposed to accept being beaten, supposed to retire gracefully from the fray, supposed to recognise it’s someone else’s turn. This ain’t Richard Nixon’s America and it’s not Ronald Reagan’s either.
And yet, in one sense, why should Romney accept it is someone else’s turn? It is not as though the Republican party is over-freighted with stars likely to defeat Hillary Clinton. Who can blame Romney for thinking he’s got as good a shot as any of these other schlubs?
He has the advantage of being familiar with course and distance and it’s hard to make a credible case that a Romney candidacy is vastly more backward-looking than Jeb Bush’s putative tilt for the nomination. Besides, if the Democrats choose Hillary Clinton they’re hardly breaking new ground save, of course, in terms of gender.
If 2012’s version of Romney was better than 2008’s (and it was!) then who’s to say the 2016 iteration cannot be the best yet? Michael Brendan Dougherty makes a short but useful case arguing it could be. He’s almost certainly right that Romney is a better person – a better man – than many of his critics allow. But is that really enough? I doubt it.
Romney’s problem has never been his qualifications for the Presidency. No, his difficulty is the people-stuff. The empathy thing. The emotional intelligence bit of the job. He’s been a candidate who worked better in theory than in practice.
If you think of Romney as being the creation of some kind of experiment in artificial intelligence everything begins to make sense. He seems to have all it takes to pass a Presidential Turing Test and each time you think the new, improved version of the RomneyBot has a better-than-ever chance of passing. And yet, when push comes to shove, it doesn’t quite work. The new, improved, Romney still isn’t quite good enough to fool you. Close but no cigar.
Remember, too, that Let Mitt Be Mitt was the 2012 promise too. He wouldn’t make the same mistakes he’d made in 2008. And, to be fair, he made new ones instead. But why wouldn’t that happen again?
In 2012, however, Romney was the adult in the room. Once Rick Perry killed himself, Romney was the only feasible, viable, candidate. If the nomination was not his by default he was still the only credible choice. That was a splendid luxury to enjoy. It won’t apply this time. Whatever one says about Jeb, about Chris Christie, about John Kasich or about a number of other possible candidates you’d have a hard time making a convincing case that they’re immediately disqualified from serious consideration.
Which in turn makes Romney’s resume look pretty thin. In 2008 he was beaten by John McCain, a man much of the GOP hates. In 2012 he was the tall man in a room of pygmies. What kind of a track record is that, really?
What does Romney bring to the party he didn’t bring last time around? In the end, there’s a sad sense of Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, never wore it again about Romney 2016. Perhaps the best case for Mitt is that no-one else can in either but is that really enough? Or does his putative candidacy actually reveal the inadequacy of the Republican choices this time around the circus? I’d like to think it’s not sad; I suspect it might be.