It’s the latest, baffling bit of 2016 buzz that just refuses to go away: Mitt Romney for president — again.
More than 56,000 people have signed a “Draft Mitt” petition. His friend, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, has stirred the pot, saying he believes the former Massachusetts governor will run again and will win. Former Romney aide Emil Henry has laid out a case for why the third time’s the charm. And a poll of New Hampshire residents shows Romney is the overwhelming favorite among potential GOP candidates.
Romney, of course, has repeatedly said another run is out of the question. “Oh, no, no no,” he told The New York Timeswhen asked if he’d even consider it. For good measure, he added, “No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no.” He told CNN, “I’m not running for president in 2016. It’s time for someone else to take that responsibility.”
Several Republican strategists have also brushed off Mitt 2016 suggestions as ludicrous. And even if he did want to run, he's reinvented himself far too many times to morph into whatever the GOP electorate wants in 2016.
“It’s highly unlikely,” David Winston, a Republican pollster and former adviser to Newt Gingrich said of a potential Romney 2016 run.
Winston pointed to the bruising 2012 election, which Romney lost decisively to President Obama after a grueling GOP primary fight. He’d also face a much tougher GOP field in 2016 than he did in 2012, Winston said.
Conservative strategist Keith Appell, who has previously consulted for the Republican National Committee, said candidates only get so many chances.
“It’s a really difficult proposition [for Romney], thinking that the American people are going to realize ‘we were so wrong. You were right the entire time.’ That’s just not going to happen," Appell said. "People are looking for someone new. The case he made wasn’t good enough.”
Appell called the Romney obsession simply “the flavor of the month” and is coming from some in the GOP establishment who have reservations about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — both considered "establishment" candidates. Christie, once seen as a frontrunner, has been tarnished by the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal and is too liberal on some issues to get past the primaries, said Appell.
“And there’s still Bush fatigue among conservatives,” he argued — a problem for Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and younger brother of former President George W. Bush.
It's true that there is no obvious frontrunner for the 2016 GOP nomination as the party tries to grapple with the divisions between its establishment and tea party factions. But despite all the churn, it's hard to see how another Romney bid would do anything more than make the GOP's problems even worse.
Romney was soundly rejected by voters in his own party during his first bid for the nomination in 2008. He dropped out barely a month after losing the Iowa caucuses that year to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
During his second bid in 2012, Romney just barely escaped an almost implausibly weak Republican field. And by the time he'd made it to the general election, Romney seemed intent on reinforcing the party’s image of representing the wealthy, white electorate at the expense of everyone else. Who was this upper-crust multi-millionaire with off-shore bank accounts, a penchant for defining corporations as people and enjoying the firing of people who provide him services? Surely he was not someone most Americans could relate to, particularly not one of the 47% of Americans he dismissed as government-reliant moochers.
President Obama ended up crushing Romney among Hispanic voters 71% to 27%, African-Americans 93% to 6% and women 55% to 44% and resulted in the GOP releasing a damning, so-called autopsy report admitting many view the GOP as a group of “stuffy old men,” an entity at which “young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes,” and minorities “wrongly think Republicans do not like them.”
Damon Linker, a writer at The Week who worked as a speechwriter for New York’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, thinks the idea of another Romney campaign is laughable – partially because Romney has changed his image so many times — as a moderate governor in liberal Massachusetts, as a “foreign policy tough guy and a champion of the religious right” in 2008, and a “non-nonsense, job creating businessman” in 2012.
“Each time Romney has altered his image, he’s paid a political price — earning a reputation as at best a serial flip flopper, and at worst a shameless opportunist,” Linker wrote.
In short, the damage cannot be undone.
Those who are urging Romney to give it one last go point to Ronald Reagan, who ran three times before becoming president (although he didn’t bag the party’s nomination until his third try). They insist Mitt can rally donors. And heck, there’s no clear GOP front-runner, so it might as well be Mitt, right?
But even some who worked for Romney during his past campaigns believe Romney’s time as a presidential contender is up.
“So many people have a sense of nostalgia for him … but I don’t think so,” Jim Merill, a top adviser to Romney in New Hampshire in 2008 and 2012, told msnbc when asked if he thought there would be a third bid.
“It’s an arduous process to run for president and he knows that better than almost anybody. My instinct is that he’ll find another way to serve the country and party," Merill said.
And indeed, since all but disappearing after his 2012 loss following a campaign littered with gaffes, Romney has emerged as a party elder. He’s held his influential annual summit in Utah, bringing together GOP leaders, donors and likely national candidates. And the Netflix documentary, “Mitt,” helped make him seem more personable than the wooden candidate voters saw in 2012.
He’s no longer the laughing stock of his party, and he might want to keep it that way.