Mitt Romney is No Dick Nixon

Emil Henry makes "The Case for Mitt Romney in 2016."


Emil Henry makes “The Case for Mitt Romney in 2016” at POLITICO rather than, as one might expect, Slate.*

His premise:

First, consider the similarities in their 1960 and 2012 presidential contests. Romney and Nixon were both mighty warriors, but they still lacked the natural ease of the best retail politicians. In person, they were warm, charming— even gentle. But on television it was different. When they debated their cool and telegenic opponents, they sometimes appeared square and old-fashioned in comparison. They just didn’t connect the way successful presidential aspirants typically do.
So, when they lost the general election, many in the press quickly wrote their political obituaries. All conceded their brilliance, stamina and mastery of the facts—especially those of the troubles brewing overseas. But they were, by most accounts, finished.

This is an odd argument. Yes, like Nixon (and Bob Dole) before him, Romney’s natural charm and decency didn’t translate well to the campaign stage. And, yes, he came across as strangely square. But, unlike Nixon, Romney was perfectly telegenic. And, who, exactly, was extolling Romney’s “brilliance, stamina and mastery of the facts—especially those of the troubles brewing overseas”?

Now, I supported Romney as the best electable* alternative in the 2012 Republican primaries and ultimately voted for him in the general election. I think he would have made a solid, if not excellent, president. Yes, he’s bright. But I’m not sure he displayed any especial “mastery of the facts.” Hell, he was positively awful on the healthcare reform issue, in particular—and that was his signature achievement as governor. He’s a highly skilled manager and strategist but he’s not a public policy wonk. And, unlike Nixon, who’d made his reputation in Congress and as Ike’s vice president as a Cold Warrior, Romney was and is a foreign policy neophyte. To the extent he got talking points right, they were someone else’s talking points. (That’s typical for presidential candidates, including the last three winners; expertise in international affairs is not high on the list of things the American voter rewards.)

Henry’s other arguments aren’t so much a case for Romney but an indicator of how weak the Republican bench is.

1. Romney is re-emerging as the de facto leader of the Republican Party.

Nixon also emerged into this role, mainly due to his successful efforts to increase republican seats in Congress and governorships in the 1966 midterms. Romney is similarly engaged in this year’s midterms, slowly re-earning goodwill from the partywith multiple successful endorsements, fundraising for Republican bright lights like Ed Gillespie and mobilizing his loyalists to support Sen. Rob Portman’s efforts to re-take the Senate.

Henry rightly notes that others touted as potential 2016 contenders—Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul—are either hobbled or off the radar screen and that party leaders in Congress are not “filling the void.”

2. There is no natural 2016 GOP nominee and the field is highly fractured.

Nixon benefitted similarly in 1968. Barry Goldwater took himself out of contention after his 1964 loss, and Nelson Rockefeller never fully committed to the race. That left relative newcomers to presidential politics in Ronald Reagan and George Romney, creating an opening for Nixon to exploit with his latent campaign infrastructure.

Romney might find such an opening. When Republicans don’t hold the presidency, they tend to nominate “the guy who last ran” (think Nixon ’68, Reagan ’80, Dole ’96, McCain ’08 and Romney ’12) and reject newcomers not yet tested at the presidential level. If this formula were to repeat, then the mantle would likely pass to Romney’s 2012 running mate Paul Ryan, but he isn’t showing any leg for a presidential run. Newcomers like Jeb Bush and Rand Paul—or for that matter Marco Rubio, Rob Portman and Bobby Jindal—would have to overcome this historical pattern.

Should an opening emerge, Romney, like Nixon, will have a massive legacy infrastructure at his disposal to seize the opportunity.

Rick Santorum would seem to be the guy whose “turn” it is, coming in a distant second and winning eleven states. No other candidate besides him or Romney won more than three. He’s a natural campaigner with appeal to the religious right and the Tea Party but he’ll have a hard time getting Establishment support of finding big money backers.

3. All failed nominees other than Romney were career politicians.

Where Romney stands out versus every failed nominee of the last half century is that he, a lifelong businessman with just one successful four-year stint as governor of Massachusetts, is not a career politician. Why might this matter in 2016? Presidential elections are typically about a pendulum swing. A view among many at the conference (aptly titled “The Future of American Leadership”) was the perception of too much rampant incompetence for too long—by both parties. Peggy Noonan echoed this sentiment in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal: “Americans hate incompetence”… and “they’ve seen it now from two administrations.”

This, to use a bit of social science jargon, is utter horseshit. The only reason he’s not a “career politician” is that he keeps losing election. He ran for the US Senate in 1994; he gave incumbent Teddy Kennedy the toughest race of his career but fell short. He ran for governor in 2002 and won. He didn’t run for re-election, presumably because his ”approval rating stood at 34 percent in November 2006, ranking 48th of the 50 U.S. governors.” He immediately started running for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, losing to John McCain. And, of course, after McCain’s loss to President Obama, Romney started running for the 2012 nomination, winning it, before going on to lose to Obama.

I suppose it’s possible Romney will become the first losing major party nominee in nearly a half century to get another shot. Again, the Republican field appears shockingly weak at this juncture. But, if this is the case for Romney, it’s just as weak.

*For those not familiar with the #SlatePitches internet meme, the online magazine is notorious for its wildly counterintuitive articles.

**Jon Huntsman was my favorite. But he started with little name recognition and the baggage of having served as President Obama’s ambassador to China. And he seemed to go out of his way to insult the Republican nominating electorate throughout the contest.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ron Beasley says:


    :He’s a highly skilled manager

    I have seen no evidence of that, he rode on the backs of others for most of his business career. If anything he reminds me of George W Bush, lots of ambition but little curiosity.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Ron Beasley: He was a successful manager as a governor and at Bain. I don’t know that he has any especial vision for the country but I think he’d be a competent administrator.

  3. Eric Florack says:

    The answer is still “NO”, James.

    as I said last time….
    It should have surprised no one when Obama told us last week that he thinks the free market has never worked. I mean, hell, I warned of this the day the Democrats nominated him, that he actually thinks this way….(to the derision and catcalls of a lot of GOP loyalists and certainly the usual lefties) …but Romney has no such consistency. Granted, that the remainder of the Republican field at this point is looking less than perfect. But the fact that so much of the GOP rank and file is giving all those admittedly flawed people a serious look, should tell any observer that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction with Romney among that rank and file. Romney and his record is why.

    This apprehension is more than justified.

    Romney is now supposedly a pro gun small government conservative who subscribes to the pro life way of thinking. This, given his history of left-leaning is about as convincing to me as OJ Simpson’s claim that he will search every golf course in the country until he finds his wife’s killer…. more or less. Even Polifact seems to agree on this point.

    Romney has a governing record and for that matter a record of campaign rhetoric in Massachusetts that leans so far to the left that it’s difficult to distinguish between Romney and Obama. Look back, for example, at the rhetoric flying around the room when Romney ran against Ted Kennedy. There is some speculation, that Romney was simply saying that to get elected…. He was trying to trick the Liberal Massachusetts voter. Forgive me if I don’t find that overly impressive. Either he was saying anything he needed to say to get elected, or he really is that Liberal. Seems to me that neither one of those choices is very appetizing. Let’s look at a few other salient points that form the Romney record:

    Romney didn’t support Ronald Reagan. (As I’ve said in the past, the GOP establishment wasn’t too happy about Reagan running. Kinda tells you where Romney was and is, huh? Interesting fact about a man now trying to claim Ronald Reagan’s legacy.)
    Romney favored “Assault” Weapons Ban
    Romney Favors Waiting Periods to Buy Handguns
    Romney raised taxes on business by a total of $309 million
    Romney increased taxes on business property
    Romney joined a coalition lobbying congress to tax internet activity
    Romney refused to support the Bush tax cuts while governor
    Romney refused to sign the No New Taxes pledge when campaigning for Governor
    Romney Balanced Budget with $500 Million in New Fees
    Romney imposed “socialized” health care on Massachusetts
    Romney supported abortion in general, and believes in sustaining Roe v. Wade.
    Romney campaigned for Governor of Massachusetts as a pro-choice candidate, and was endorsed by a pro-abortion political group
    Romney Approves of the Abortion Pill and Supports the Legalization of RU-486
    Romney has a long history of promoting and furthering the homosexual agenda, and working closely with leading gay activists
    Romney barred Boy Scouts from public participation in 2002 Olympics because of their Ban on Homosexual Scoutmasters
    Romney unnecessarily (and unconstitutionally) implemented homosexual marriages in Massachusetts
    Romney supported Racial preferences
    Romney believes in the hoax of anthropogenic global warming
    Romney supported the unconstitutional and wasteful “porkulus” spending
    Romney supported the unconstitutional bailouts of bad business
    Romney supported the assault weapons ban and Brady Bill
    Romney believes illegal aliens should be rewarded with citizenship after violating our borders and breaking our laws

    I mean, exactly at what point did he turn away from being a big government type? The record above would seem to suggest he hasn’t…. Regardless of how much influence he’s tried to buy among conservatives.

    Finally, we’re told that he is certain to overturn Obamacare. Yet, since he authored and pushed through the legislature in Massachusetts a scheme so similar to Obamacare that Obama cites Romney as an author of the thing, for fear of lawsuits over copyright infringement, how are we to believe that he will go to Washington and obliterate such a law? Yeah, right.

    Yet we are supposed to believe the establishment GOP when they tell us now, that Romney is conservatism’s best hope? Sorry, I honestly don’t think he is the best choice. As a matter of fact, I think he will do more damage than good. Granted, that he could beat Obama. Then again, that’s not all that high a bar to jump. Any one of the current GOP candidates could beat Obama. A little referred to factoid from the 1980 election was that so many people were so disenchanted with Jimmy Carter that Ronald Reagan became the “none of the above” candidate. I say again, anyone can beat Obama. At this point, I suspect even Jimmy Carter could beat him.

    And assuming that Romney wins over Obama, what have we won? The answer is nothing. If Romney wins the nomination, what we have is a GOP, the party of Reagan, become indistinguishable from the party of Obama. In a choice between Liberal, and Liberal light, guess which way the electorate is going to go? If you need a history check on that, one need look no further than McCain’s loss to Obama.

    There are no perfect candidates. There never has been. Even Reagan had his issues. But even in the imperfect list of candidates that the Republicans are now fielding, any one of them would represent conservatism better than Romney ever could. That’s a message that needs to be sent, and pronto, to the GOP establishment.

    Indeed, so obvious is this message that it seems logical to ask if the GOP establishment is at all interested in actually being conservative.

    Or, in winning elections.

  4. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Mitt Romney is not the skilled manager his father, George Romney was. Mitt has run two failed presidential candidates largely because both efforts were poorly managed. On the campaign trail Mitt appeared naive and clueless on foreign policy and disgenuine on other issues, backtracking from his own previously moderate views. – On social policy, he would have abused the Justice Department to wage a war on pornography only to satisfy his own religious views in LDS church. Much of the current membership of antipornography groups are Mormons who want to impose their religious views on others. If you’re annoyed at Mormons who show up on your doorstep just asking you to join their church, then just wait to they control the Justice Department or FCC and start telling you what TV shows you’re allowed to watch, or what Websites you are allowed to surf on the Internet, etc.

    Mitt Romney also failed for another big reason. Many voters just didn’t view good looking and wealthy as the only real qualifications to be president. Romney lack substance and had a platform for office that was like trying to nail Jello to a tree to figure it out. – I used to work for President Nixon. If you overlook Watergate, Nixon still had far more substance as well as foreign policy understanding than Romney.

    If you have very low expectations for a president who will be worse in most areas than Obama, then Romney won’t disappoint you.

  5. Mark Ivey says:

    He is still a Mormon-Wall Street “pump&Dump” money man who went into politics, and there he banned assault rifles and created a govt health care plan that’s the blueprint for Obamacare.

    Run again Mitt………. :))))))

  6. steve says:

    He was a competent governor and ran the Olympics well. He was given his position at Bain due to his bloodlines. He worked there when it was a great time to leverage everything. As has been noted elsewhere, his returns at Bain were all beta, no alpha.


  7. george says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Romney is now supposedly a pro gun small government conservative who subscribes to the pro life way of thinking.

    You left out that he wanted to increase the size of the military – which last I checked is part of the gov’t. Small gov’t and big military are contradictions.

  8. anjin-san says:

    @ george

    the military – which last I checked is part of the gov’t.

    Florack once spent a day arguing that the military is not part of the federal government.

  9. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    hell, I warned of this the day the Democrats nominated him, that he actually thinks this way

    Was that the same day you said that Obama could not possibly win?

  10. Notanjin-san says:


    Do you ever have anything to add to the discussion other than personal insults?

  11. anjin-san says:

    Who have I insulted on this thread? Please be specific.

  12. Sejanus says:

    @anjin-san: Than in that case, according to Florak’s logic, the military is one the biggest group of welfare queens in the country.

  13. Stan says:

    Nixon wasn’t very honest, he was given to antisemitic remarks, and in his younger days he was a McCarthyite. But he was actually a pretty good president. He had a deep and subtle grasp of foreign policy, his economic policies were moderate, and he had a good environmental record. I would have voted for him if I hadn’t hated him so much. He was Mitt’ s superior in every way. So I agree with the title of this post.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Stan: I think Romney is almost certainly a better human being than Nixon was. But, yes, Nixon was a strategic foreign policy thinker—arguably a visionary—and generally sensible on matters of public policy.

    Nixon once said—or is at least said to have said—something along the lines is that it’s no good do whatever was popular to get elected to or retain office, since the whole point of holding the office is to accomplish your goals. I’m not sure Romney ever quite grasped that.

  15. anjin-san says:

    @ Stan

    But he was actually a pretty good president.

    Nixon was a brilliant man. That being said, he was a horrible President. He dragged the war out for years, and got nothing for it. He made the divisions in the country much worse. Kent State happened on his watch. The economy went into the tank on his watch. And we have not even gotten into Watergate.

  16. bk says:

    @Eric Florack:

    And assuming that Romney wins over Obama, what have we won? The answer is nothing.

    Obama is running for a third term? Worse than Hitler!

  17. Stan says:

    @anjin-san: Nobody’s perfect.

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ Stan

    Nobody’s perfect.

    No, nobody is perfect. But that is what we are talking about. The Nixon years were a very bad time for America.

  19. Stan says:

    @anjin-san: Sorry to be so flippant. At the time I felt as you do now. Since then I’ve noted the difficulties faced by President Obama in getting us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. I see a resemblance between Nixon’s slow, measured withdrawal from Indochina and Obama’s policy in the Mideast. Nixon was a realist, an American version of Otto von Bismarck. His foreign policy was amoral but effective, particularly in his use of the China card in our relations with the Soviet Union. My heart tells me that he was a monster, my head that he was a highly effective president until Watergate. It’s forty years since he left office, and I still can’t make up my mind about him.

  20. anjin-san says:

    @ Stan

    Not sure how effective Nixon’s Viet Nam policy was. We got nothing in the peace accords we could not have had in 1968. More long years of war and destruction and we left with our tails between our legs and the communists poised to crush South Viet Nam.

  21. Eric Florack says:

    @george: I didn’t forget.
    Romney gets things right since in a while, and that’s one of ’em.

  22. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: His policy, his campaign promise,was, like Obama, to get the hell out, period. I would think you’d have LIKED that attitude.

    Oh, yeah, wrong party, huh?

    The rest of you, Ponder….

    Giap once stated, ”We were not strong enough to drive out a half-million American troops, but that wasn’t our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war.”

    Gee. So, the only reason we lost was… we got the hell out.
    Before the job was done.
    Sound familiar?

  23. Eric Florack says:

    @bk: note where I said “As I said at the time”

  24. Eric Florack says:

    @george: contradictions?
    Not when military is in the constitution… one of the few things that our government is actually supposed to be doing, according to the constitution.

  25. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: sure.
    He didn’t. The GOP got stupid. It was their race to lose.
    They arranged it by nominating a centrist.

  26. ringhals says:
  27. Ron Beasley says:

    The problem is our political system has continued to deteriorate. I,m 68 and and reported for the draft the day after Nixon was elected. As flawed as he might have been he looks great compared the current “leaders” of the Republican party. On the other side for as flawed as LBJ may have been he looks great compared to Obama. We really have no political leaders anymore.

  28. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    I would think you’d have LIKED that attitude.

    I did not like the idea of getting out of Nam, I loved it. We should have never been there to begin with. I think Nixon knew all along we were screwed, he really had a first class mind for geopolitics and a fine grasp of history (which teaches us that going to war in Viet Nam pretty much never ends well).

    Knowing that we were trapped in a losing war, Nixon dragged things out for years, looking for an exit strategy that made him look good. A lot of people died unnecessarily in this quest, and in the end the extra years of war gained us nothing, and cost us a great deal.

    Before the job was done.

    One reason we lost is that we never defined the mission. To defend freedom and democracy in South Viet Nam? There was none. Any legitimacy the government had disappeared when Diem was removed from power and murdered.

    Was the job to end the ability of North Vietnameese regulars and the Viet Cong to make war? Kind of hard to do that without going to war with China and/or the Soviet Union.

    We were screwed from day one. We went to war based on a lie (Gulf of Tonkin Incident) for a lie (South Vietnameese democracy). It was never going to end well. Never.

  29. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    It was their race to lose.

    They arranged it by nominating a centrist.

    You said “Obama can’t win” – I am reasonably sure those were your exact words. Just one more wildly wrong prediction that you handed down as if you were getting your information from a burning bush.

    You might have some credibility if you just fessed up to the times you have been wrong, instead of trying to pretend that your mistakes never happened. I would think a guy that makes so much noise about personal responsibility would have no problem doing this.

  30. jukeboxgrad says:


    I think he’d be a competent administrator

    Project Orca is strong evidence that you’re wrong.

  31. jukeboxgrad says:

    You said “Obama can’t win”

    Florack said this on 10/21/12:

    Obama has lost re-election. The only question remaining is how large a victory Romney is headed for.

    And this is what he told us a couple of days before Obama was elected (the first time): that he would lose and there would be “rioting in Grant park.”

    I’m looking forward to his future predictions, so I’ll know that I should bet the other way.

  32. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    I think that what fascinates me most about the right wing of guys like Florack is how Obama has become the avatar of leftist realpolitic. Weird.

  33. anjin-san says:

    @ jukeboxgrad

    The truly sad thing is that bithead clearly seemed to hope their would be rioting in Grant Park. What sort of person hopes for a riot?

  34. Sejanus says:

    @anjin-san: I’m by no means a Nixon apologist… But I’m not quite sure how can Kent State be considered to be his fault. It seems to me that the fault lays squarely on the Ohio National Guard, although there may be something that I’m missing.

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Jon Huntsman was my favorite. But he started with little name recognition and the baggage of having served as President Obama’s ambassador to China. And he seemed to go out of his way to insult the Republican nominating electorate throughout the contest.

    Now how did he do that? Oh, wait a minute, now I remember, by using facts and repeatedly telling the truth. No wonder he lost.

  36. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: He’s not a pundit but a politician. If you’re seeking to get the base of the Republican Party to nominate you, then you have to find a way to get your message out in a way that appeals to them. Huntsman is a genuine conservative. He was governor of Utah, for goodness sake. I think he could have gotten away with presenting his actual views in a straightforward manner. He could have challenged some Fox News shibboleths. But he needed to do it as one of them, not as “Hey, you’re a bunch of idiots.”

  37. Davebo says:

    He’s not a pundit but a politician. If you’re seeking to get the base of the Republican Party to nominate you, then you have to find a way to get your message out in a way that appeals to them pretend that you are batshit crazy.

  38. Sejanus says:

    @Davebo: Exactly. In 2008 Giuliani was considered to be a viable candidate for the Republican nomination; by 2012 the party had moved so far to the right that he would have had no chance of winning the nomination that year. Even though Huntsman’s views are more right wing than those of Giuliani, he still deviates from Tea Party’s orthodoxy too much to have won the nomination. Face it James, for at least a decade or two the presidential nominee whose views are most similar to yours will be in the Democratic Party.

  39. Eric Florack says:

    Hmmm. Missing response.

  40. Stan says:

    @ringhals: Look up the last line of Some Like It Hot.

  41. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    Hmmm. Missing response.

    True, you have cut and run on several topics here.

  42. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: My schedule, and travels tend to prevent more steady participation, else you’d be handed your head daily.
    But that’s not what I was saying. I posted a multiple response, but apparently, it was trapped by the system for some reason. I suspect the multiple @ links tripped a spam response.

  43. jukeboxgrad says:

    I suspect the multiple @ links tripped a spam response.

    Your message will get stuck if you use the Reply feature to try to reply to me. I am special that way.

  44. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    My schedule, and travels tend to prevent more steady participation,

    If only someone could figure out how to comment from a cell phone…

  45. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @anjin-san: Please stop encouraging Florack. He gets tiresome quickly.

    @ Eric Florack: I really mean what I said about some of your early blogging. You were frequently intelligent and thoughtful–especially about life on the road, politics, not so much–you should find and reacquaint yourself with that previous–and significantly more thoughtful–Eric. His commets might be worth reading sometimes for reasons other than comic relief.

  46. Eric Florack says:

    LOL, Jukebox. Noted.
    wish Id saved the text, woulda saved me some problems.

  47. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: Oh, I do frequently, when I have time. Kinda hard to do when I’m driving, however. By the time I get done with my work day, I’m usually rather tired.

    And to answer your other point, I’ve been on record for years, suggesting that Obama didn’t win, Romeny lost… the GOP got stupid. The GOP electorate… and for that matter, the majority of America, felt it didn’t have anyone to vote for. As a more recent example, consider…

    Sejanus: I tend to agree. Nixon could be blamed for many things… and I do. What did you expect from a California Liberal? Then again, Kent State was not among those.

    Cracker: Since my beatitude has not changed since I started writing… back in the 70’s… perhaps it is you who have changed? (My current site only goes back to 9/12/01, I think, Alas, I didn’t save a lot of the stuff I wrote for the old GT BBS network.)

    And by the way… did you note how Bush became the avatar of the right to the usual suspects?

  48. jukeboxgrad says:

    Obama didn’t win, Romeny lost… the GOP got stupid

    Which is why you said this before the election:

    Obama has lost re-election. The only question remaining is how large a victory Romney is headed for.

  49. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    I’ve been on record for years, suggesting that Obama didn’t win, Romeny lost…

    Yea, you get kind of weasel-ish when your predictions turn out to be wildly wrong, which is often. This is not news.

    LIke the late McCain surge that you said would sweep him into the Oval Office in 2008, that you knew about because of “special inside information most people don’t have access to”, (the inside information turned out to be desperation McCain press releases. Well, some people fell for it – like you).

    Then there was the “Democrat civil war, worse than Chicago” that you predicted for the 2008 Democratic convention.

    By the time I get done with my work day, I’m usually rather tired.

    Well, that is a unique condition.

    You call yourself a political blogger, but you don’t even stand behind your own writing. Instead you make excuses for being wrong. I still remember something my father told me – “men should not make excuses.” I passing it along to you, because apparently you did not learn that one.

  50. wr says:

    @Eric Florack: What I don’t understand about your theory is this: If one of these “true conservatives,” whoever they are — Gingrich? Santorum? That pizza clown? — can’t even win a majority of the dedicated right wingers who vote in primaries, why would you ever think they could win in the general?