Mitt Romney To The GOP’s Rescue? Don’t Count On It, Republicans
Increasingly concerned by the rise of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and the failure of any establishment candidates to click with voters, some top Republicans are reportedly turning their lonely eyes to Mitt.
The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report this morning that Republican insiders and major donors who are becoming increasingly concerned that the rise of candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson may be unstoppable, and that’s reviving talk of a last minute entry into the race by Mitt Romney:
Less than three months before the kickoff Iowa caucuses, there is growing anxiety bordering on panic among Republican elites about the dominance and durability of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and widespread bewilderment over how to defeat them.
Party leaders and donors fear that nominating either man would have negative ramifications for the GOP ticket up and down the ballot, virtually ensuring a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency and increasing the odds that the Senate falls into Democratic hands.
The party establishment is paralyzed. Big money is still on the sidelines. No consensus alternative to the outsiders has emerged from the pack of governors and senators running, and there is disagreement about how to prosecute the case against them. Recent focus groups of Trump supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire commissioned by rival campaigns revealed no silver bullet.
In normal times, the way forward would be obvious. The wannabes would launch concerted campaigns, including television attack ads, against the front-runners. But even if the other candidates had a sense of what might work this year, it is unclear whether it would ultimately accrue to their benefit. Trump’s counterpunches have been withering, while Carson’s appeal to the base is spiritual, not merely political. If someone was able to do significant damage to them, there’s no telling to whom their supporters would turn, if anyone.
“The rest of the field is still wishing upon a star that Trump and Carson are going to self-destruct,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a former adviser to 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. But, he said, “they have to be made to self-destruct. . . . Nothing has happened at this point to dislodge Trump or Carson.”
Fehrnstrom pointed out that the fourth debate passed this week without any candidate landing a blow against Trump or Carson. “We’re about to step into the holiday time accelerator,” he said. “You have Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, then Iowa and a week later, New Hampshire, and it’s going to be over in the blink of an eye.”
According to other Republicans, some in the party establishment are so desperate to change the dynamic that they are talking anew about drafting Romney — despite his insistence that he will not run again. Friends have mapped out a strategy for a late entry to pick up delegates and vie for the nomination in a convention fight, according to the Republicans who were briefed on the talks, though Romney has shown no indication of reviving his interest.
For months, the GOP professional class assumed Trump and Carson would fizzle with time. Voters would get serious, the thinking went, after seeing the outsiders share a stage with more experienced politicians at the first debate. Or when summer turned to fall, kids went back to school and parents had time to assess the candidates. Or after the second, third or fourth debates, certainly.
None of that happened, of course, leaving establishment figures disoriented.
the party establishment’s greatest weapon — big money — is partly on the shelf. Kenneth G. Langone, a founder of Home Depot and a billionaire supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said he is troubled that many associates in the New York financial community have so far refused to invest in a campaign due to the race’s volatility.
“Some of them are in, but too many are still saying, ‘I’ll wait to see how this all breaks,’ ” Langone said. “People don’t want to write checks unless they think the candidate has a chance of winning.” He said that his job as a mega-donor “is to figure out how we get people on the edge of their chairs so they start to give money.”
Many of Romney’s 2012 National Finance Committee members have sat out the race so far, including Peter A. Wish, a Florida doctor whom several 2016 candidates have courted.
“I’m not a happy camper,” Wish said. “Hopefully, somebody will emerge who will be able to do the job,” but, he added, “I’m very worried that the Republican-base voter is more motivated by anger, distrust of D.C. and politicians and will throw away the opportunity to nominate a candidate with proven experience that can win.”
Right off the top of the bat, let’s put aside the Romney part of this story, even though it’s likely to pop up again if candidates like Romeny and Carson continue to lead in the polls as we get closer to the start of the primaries. After a similar round of speculation that he might get into the race that began nearly at this same time a year ago, Mitt Romney announced in January that he would not be entering the race for President for a third time and there is absolutely no indication that he’s inclined to change his mind about that. In interview after interview that either Romney or his wife Ann have given in the months since, it’s been made clear that as far as the Romney family is concerned Mitt’s time as a candidate is behind him. Instead, Romney has spent the balance of 2015 doing much the same thing as he did in the wake of the 2012 election and in the run up to last year’s mid-term election, acting as something of an elder statesman in the party by hosting meetings between candidates and top donors and strategy sessions among many of his top former advisers and other Republican strategist. Quite obviously, Romney’s loyalty remains with the more “establishment” wing of the party, but he hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet and he probably won’t do so until later in the race. As far as getting into the race goes, though, it is fairly clear that Mitt Romney shut the door on that possibility nearly a year ago and he’s not interested in reopening it.
Even if there were some interest on Romney’s part in getting back into the fray, practically speaking it’s rather impossible at this point. The deadline to enter the New Hampshire Primary, for example, is mere weeks away and while Romney could easily comply with the ballot access requirements in the Granite State if he really wanted to it would only be the beginning of the logistical obstacles entering the race this late would present. Much like Joe Biden would have had to do before he announced that he was not running for the Democratic nomination nearly a month ago, a Romney campaign entry now would mean having to put together a nationwide campaign organization starting basically from zero just as we’re getting into the final push before the voting starts in the early primary states. While Romney theoretically could reconstruct the campaign organization that he had in 2008 and 2012 to the extent those people aren’t now working for other candidates, it wouldn’t be easy and it would be hard for such a campaign to be up to speed the way other campaigns already are. Finally, the fact of the matter is that the political winds in the Republican Party now are much different than they were in 2008 or 2012 and there’s really no reason to believe that Republican voters are begging for a guy like Romney to enter the race. The fact that Trump and Carson are at the top of the race while “establishment” candidates like Bush, Kasich, and Christie are lagging and candidates like Marco Rubio who could be the kind of candidates that blend establishment and grassroots support breakthrough is a strong indication, I think, that a candidate like Mitt Romney would not be the kind of savior that the GOP establishment seems to think they need.
Leaving Mitt Romney said, though, the buried lede in his story is a two-part one, the increasing realization among the powers-that-be inside the Republican Party could actually win the nomination and the fear that there may not be a way to stop that from happening. Given the numbers, it seems fairly clear that their fears about Trump and Carson could be well-founded. Between them, these two men nearly, or in some cases more than, fifty percent of the support in polling at the national level, in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. While it’s easy to point to past races where candidates that were once at the top of the field have fallen once we got closer to the voting, it becomes harder and harder to dismiss these numbers as mere voter flirtation as the days and weeks go on, especially given the fact that, so far at least, no candidate seems to be rising up to challenge either of them. Jeb Bush’s campaign is languishing notwithstanding the fact that he’s had solid fundraising and probably the best organized campaign of anyone in the field. John Kasich doesn’t seem to be much of a phenomenon outside New Hampshire, and even there he hasn’t managed to break much past the place he was thrust into when he first entered the race. Chris Christie has seen his campaign flounder since he entered the race, and has done so bad everywhere outside New Hampshire recent that he was unable to make it to the main stage for Tuesday’s debate. Finally, as I noted above, Marco Rubio is being touted as a rising star in the field, and it’s entirely possible that he could emerge as a candidate that both the establishment and grassroots can get behind, which would be the kind of combination that would make him a potentially effective challenger to both Carson and Trump. That hasn’t happened yet, though.
In many ways, of course, the nervousness we’re seeing from the establishment and donor class is not very different from what we saw just over four years ago when some of the same people were apparently worrying about Romney’s own ability to survive onslaughts from the 2012 election cycle’s band of Republican misfits. Back then, Ken Langone, one of the big Republican donors quoted in the story above, and other donors were pushing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to get into the race notwithstanding the case that the Governor had spent the better part of the previous year denying any interest in running. After several weeks in September 2011 when Christie appeared to be at least considering the possibility, the New Jersey Governor ultimately declined to run and the race went on, with Romney ultimately vastly outperforming his rivals when the voting actually started. To some extent, then, what we’re seeing now isn’t all that different from what we saw from the donor class in the GOP four years ago. The difference this time, though, is that there still doesn’t seem to be a candidate they can support capable of taking on the candidates that seem to be dominating the Republican race right now. That could well change in the coming months, but until does people like Langone, and Republicans actually concerned about possibly winning in 2016 and doing things like holding on to the party’s control of the Senate are going to continue being nervous. Looking for a white knight like Romney to rescue them, though, is largely a futile waste of time.