If Mitt Romney is the answer, what is the question? You can probably think of a few worthy possible questions, but one that doesn’t immediately come to mind is: Who would be the best Republican presidential nominee in 2016? It’s a question The Wall Street Journal asked this week after Mitt Romney told a room full of donors, “I want to be president.”
I imagine after saying that, he followed up with something like: “This time it will be different. This time I will run as the real Mitt Romney, as the guy who shows compassion and doesn’t pander or make huge gaffes. Now I know what I’m doing.”
Say what you will about Romney, but I believe there’s a far more genuine and real person underneath it all. There is usually so much more to a person than what we see on the surface, especially in politics. I say this as someone who watched my own dad run for president. An experience with too many advisers – all trying to control you, your family, and your message. Which is part of why many of us are saying, what? You really want to go through all of that again?
But I guess you could say, well why shouldn’t he run? He got close last time and, after all, we live in a democracy. Not to mention he knows how to raise a ton of cash from big donors to feed a campaign.
But just because you can run for president doesn’t mean you should. Even if you believe you are the chosen one, that you are destined to run this country, which he clearly believes, it doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for the country.
Then there’s always the, “Well, Ronald Reagan did it three times, why can’t Romney?” The Wall Street Journal argues that “the Gipper analogy is actually a stretch.” Reagan got in the race late in 1968, and in 1976, he almost upset President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination, finally winning the nomination in 1980 when he went on to win the general.
Romney’s case is different than Reagan’s. He lost the nomination decisively to John McCain in 2008, and in 2012 he defeated a historically weak field (well, aside from my dad) – and that was mainly thanks to his ability to raise more money and pound his competitors with negative ads.
This represents a problem for Romney. Take this from Joe Klein: “He never expressed a real emotion – not anger, not sadness, not unscripted laughter.” And this is why he lost the last two times. It wasn’t the gaffes, although they certainly weren’t helpful, or because he wasn’t “conservative enough” or even because he was too rich. He lost because he came across as computer-animated. Like there was nothing real to him. Moments like these:
“I love this state, the trees are the right height. I love seeing the lakes, I love the lakes.”
“I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck, Anne drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.”
“I love these cookies, they don’t look like you made them actually, they came from the local 7-11 bakery or whatever.”
Perception is everything in politics. If you can’t connect with voters, and convince them that even in a small way you understand them and have compassion for them, you will never win. And if you can’t do that after two tries, will the third time be the charm? I doubt it.
The question he should be asking himself right now is not, “should I run for president again?” It should be, “how can I make the biggest difference? What can I do to help the Republican Party win in 2016?” And if he were being honest with himself, taking ego out of it, he should come up with this conclusion: He has had his chances, and now, as Barack Obama has said, America craves that new car smell this time around. And no matter how many cars the Romney’s have, 2016 in politics should be a new model.