The week ends with a bang, not a whimper, what with the bombshell that Mitt Romney won’t seek the presidency.
Count me among the surprised. I thought The Weekly Standard’s Jonathan V. Last summed it up nicely in the following passage from his recent story about a 2016 Romney candidacy:
“The sense I always got (and this might be incorrect — I’m not his rabbi) was that Mitt Romney wanted to be president because he wanted to be president. And when the impulse to run is yoked to personal ambition and removed from politics, philosophy, or the world of ideas — well, that sort of yearning dies hard.”
Well, apparently that yearning did die — or, at a minimum, was suppressed by the uphill reality of Romney seeking his party’s nomination a third time.
Yes, Ronald Reagan got the GOP nod in 1980, on his third try. But those three runs spanned 12 years (people tend to forget that he briefly sought the presidency in 1968). Besides, Reagan was a movement politician espousing a philosophy pretty much unchanged from 1964 to 1980. As such, he enjoyed two luxuries that Romney never has in national politics: intellectual/ideological consistency and a passionate following.
The blogosphere is humming with speculation as to the impact of the Romney no-go. Here are my three takeaways.
1) A Unique GOP Field. Had Romney run, there was the distinct possibility of 2016 ending up as just another Republican selection process — the biggest-name, most-moneyed holdover from the previous campaign slogging his way to the nomination in a contest that was more about financial attrition than candidates’ attributes. For the first time since 2000, there’s no nominee-in-waiting — at least as far as holdovers are concerned (George W. Bush was the dominant frontrunner, based on name i.d. and an imposing political operation). Moreover, there’s no one dominant national figure dwarfing his or her fellow GOP candidates. Here’s a scary thought: the indivisual with the highest name i.d. at this moment: Donald Trump.
2) The Mainstream Widens. With Romney out of the race, the “270 money” (my term for big GOP donors who do they’re choosing based more so on electability than ideology) has to reassess. Jeb Bush obviously is a beneficiary, as he has been since he jumped into this race earlier than expected and started chipping away at Romney’s empire. Two other lower-tier candidates to watch: Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. Both can now approach Romney donors, talking points in hand about swing-state electability. And there’s a third possibility: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who might see the need to step up his ongoing flirtation amidst all this reassessment.
3) Generational Politics. Born seven months earlier than Hillary Clinton in 1947, Romney not only represents the early days of the Boomer generation, but had he run a continuation of the Republicans’ insistence on grandfatherly candidacies (the one exception since the end of the Cold War: George W. Bush, perhaps not coincidentally the only Republican to win the presidency since 1988). The potential exists for Republicans not only to tailor their message to younger voters, but also to put forward a candidate who embodies younger concerns (mortgages, college tuition, kids’ values). The last time America turned to a substantively older successor in an open-seat presidential election (I’m not including Bush 32, who’s six weeks older than Bill Clinton): 1980 and Ronald Reagan (13 years Jimmy Carter’s senior). Otherwise, turning the page usually entails turning to a younger president (not-so-good news for Madame Secretary).
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