HUDSON, New Hampshire – For Mitt Romney, it was déjà vu all over again on Wednesday as he rallied Republicans in a state where his political and personal roots run deep. “Two and a half years ago, I was in this place,” Romney said as he took the stage at Gilchrist Metal Fabrication Company to stump for Senate candidate Scott Brown.
Not only did Romney speak at the same place as a presidential candidate in 2012, he cast the company's owner Jack Gilchrist in one of the signature ads from that election. Gilchrist, who introduced Romney on Wednesday, was featured in the television spot berating President Obama for telling business owners like him “you didn’t build that” without some form of government help.
Romney, clad in the familiar jeans-and-dress-shirt uniform he wore throughout his 2012 run, went on to lose that election handily. He isn’t done arguing with Obama, however.
“They say they’re trying to reduce income inequality, that hasn’t happened … it’s gotten worse,” Romney told the crowd on Wednesday, rattling off a litany of alleged White House failings since the election. “Internationally, they misjudged what Russia’s intentions were, misjudged what we should have done in Syria … They misjudged the importance of having our forces remain in Iraq. They made so many mistakes.”
To many of the Republicans who supported Romney in 2012, the former Massachusetts governor’s recent speeches sound like the basis for a comeback. Obama’s approval ratings have plunged since their matchup; a number of areas of concern Romney identified on the campaign trail are now dominating the news; no other Republican has established themselves as an obviously strong nominee. Why not give it another shot?
“He was right on Russia, he was right on Obamacare, he was right on the economy and I can tell you, governor, if you were in the White House the country and the world would seem a whole heck of a lot different,” Brown said in his speech on Wednesday.
It wasn’t hard to find attendees at the rally urging Romney to run again. Each of them cited recent crises abroad as a prime reason he could win. If “you did build that” was his catch phrase in 2012, “I told you so” would be the 2016 version.
“He was right on practically everything,” Judy Harrington, 68, of Pembroke said. “We have a president who runs the country based on polls right now and it’s a shame.”
A campaign as the GOP’s foreign policy prophet could offer another reinvention for a candidate who’s already gone through several transformations. During the 2012 election, foreign affairs were barely on the radar as the economy dominated Americans’ attention and Romney’s business acumen formed the core of his message. Two years later, the recovery is shaky but the unemployment rate is 5.9%, a level Romney pledged during his presidential campaign to hit by the end of 2016, and Republicans like Brown are increasingly emphasizing national security as a top campaign issue.
Romney’s last appearance at the Gilchrist factory, which took place on Jan. 9, 2012, came at a high point in his campaign. He had just narrowly “won” the Iowa caucuses (a later count gave Rick Santorum the victory) and was cruising to a dominant performance in New Hampshire where he owned a home and enjoyed a rapport with many of the Massachusetts transplants in the state.
But in retrospect, the rally also came at what was the beginning of a long decline. His Republican opponents had just started attacking him over his work at Bain Capital, a topic that hurt his image in the primaries and even more in the general election. The same day he spoke in Hudson, he told an earlier crowd that “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” a quote that referred to choosing competing insurance companies. Democrats seized the comment to portray him as a callous millionaire.
For Romney to win in a hypothetical 2016 bid, he’d have to endure the same gauntlet of populist attacks that felled him two years ago. That would mean more Bain, and more ads featuring the infamous 47% comment. It would likely include new attacks based on his post-election remarks to donors that “gifts” to minorities and young voters were what lost him the race.
Some Romney supporters at the Hudson event argued that these issues were largely the fault of his campaign staff, who they complained didn’t rebut attacks on his wealth early and forcefully enough. Others were less sure a change of advisers would be enough.
Dave Shorr, 44, supported Romney in the 2012 primaries. Shorr still has plenty of affection for the guy, too: He wore a t-shirt to the rally depicting a fictional newspaper headline celebrating Romney’s presidential victory over Obama. This time, however, he’s looking at other options.
“He could have been better,” Shorr said. “The 47% line didn’t help. Minimum wage workers don’t pay income tax. You can work and not pay income tax.”
Gilchrist, the factory owner, got his own taste of how rough it was to be in Romney’s seat during the 2012 campaign. After he cut his ad for Romney, reporters looked into his business and found that it had benefitted from the government through tax-exempt bonds and defense spending. Soon he was buried under an avalanche of outraged emails, voice messages, and letters from Obama supporters. Always up for an argument, Gilchrist replied to as many as he could.
“It usually turned out we agreed on everything except how to pay for things,” he said.
The controversy passed eventually, and when Gilchrist spoke on Wednesday, he took care to note that his business had received some help over the years, even if it was financed by his tax dollars. But he’s troubled by the idea that Romney would have to suffer the same thing all over again to get to the White House.
“It’s a bittersweet wish,” he said. “I still think he’s the best person for the job, but what the Chicago people put him through, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”