As Donald Trump continues to dominate the Republican presidential race, frustration and panic have become high enough to make some inside the party Establishment pine for a candidate they roundly rejected as recently as January: Mitt Romney.National Review's Eliana Johnson quotes some of the well-heeled piners:
Dr. Greggory DeVore, who in 2012 raised more than $1 million for Romney, is one of these men. He’s even printed up Romney 2016 bumper stickers, and his black Audi S8 has two pasted on the back. “Romney 2016,” they say. “I told you so -- now let’s fix it.”The problem, as Slate's Jamelle Bouie writes, is that the GOP needs someone this year who's like Romney, someone who could run in the primaries the way Romney did in 2012 -- a candidate who might not excite a fervent cult but is broadly acceptable:
“The guy was prophetic in what he saw,” DeVore says of Romney.... According to DeVore, several top Romney donors are keeping their powder dry because they “recognize that the people we’ve put out are not the same caliber as a Mitt Romney.”
... Dave Van Slooten, a former Wall Street investor who donated more than $50,000 to Romney, says he’s similarly underwhelmed by the current GOP field. “We got exposure to all the candidates in the last debate, and I personally don’t think any of them measure up to Mitt,” Van Slooten says.
Romney wasn’t the first choice for the majority of Republican primary voters, but he was the first alternate for when everyone’s various infatuations died down. “Romney was viewed positively by likely Republican primary voters regardless of whether they were conservatives or moderates, pro-life or pro-choice, relatively wealthy or not, Tea Party members or not,” write political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck in The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election. What’s more, Romney had high ratings among voters who backed candidates like Cain and Gingrich: “About 74 percent of conservative Republican primary voters had a favorable view of him,” they write. When it was time to choose, Romney was the strongest contender, and Republicans were ready to pick him.No Establishment-friendly figure has poll numbers and approval ratings like that this year -- Jeb's favorability is in the tank, while Rubio gets high favorable ratings but is very few voters' first or second choice.
However, some Romneyites say he has numbers like that now. Sherman writes:
Romney's rehabilitation campaign began with his starring role in last year’s documentary Mitt and continued with his charity boxing match against Evander Holyfield this spring. It turns out that Romney the noncandidate connects with the public in a way Romney the gaffe-prone plutocrat candidate never did. So much so that Romney openly flirted with a third White House run this winter. “When people were polling this stuff back in January, what was striking was not his popularity but the breadth of it,” says Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief 2012 strategist. “Unlike a lot of candidates, his support wasn’t siloed. The non-tea-party folks liked him, and the tea-party folks liked him. It’s unique.”I haven't seen Stevens's numbers -- but before you say he's delusional, remember how much better Romney was at saying what the crazy base wanted to hear in 2012. (Obamacare is evil! Benghazi was evil! Undocumented immigrants should self-deport!). Also, remember how nasty and snarly Romney was -- a huge contrast with Jeb Bush. I'm not saying that Romney could have won an extended match of the White Man's Dozens with Donald Trump, but he might have been vitriolic enough to hold his own against Trump.
I'm not joking about this. I think back to that CNN poll from early 2014 in which Romney beat Obama 53%-44% in a hypothetical matchup and I'm happy the GOP Establishment chose Jeb in the battle of the entitled scions. Yes, Romney lost to Hillary 55%-42% in that same poll, but Hillary was a hell of a lot more popular back then. Am I seriously arguing that Romney could have been competitive not only in the 2016 Republican primaries but in the general election? I am, and I don't care if you think I'm crazy. I imagine someone will poll both these questions eventually. I think the numbers will vindicate me.