He's tanned. He's rested. Is he ready?
Reason’s Robbie Soave argues that the third time might be the charm for Mitt Romney’s presidential ambitions:
Inflation and rising gas prices, frustration with liberal political leaders who clung to COVID-19 restrictions well past their expiration date, and concerns about how the administration is handling the twin threats of Russia and China (to say nothing of the U.S.’s bungled exit from Afghanistan), have all caused Joe Biden’s poll numbers to plummet.
Biden began his presidency with a 53% approval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight; he’s now at 42%, even after a post State of the Union bump. If this situation endures until November, Republicans should easily retake the House and possibly the Senate as well.
At that point, all eyes will turn to the 2024 presidential election, in which the Republicans will be well-positioned to make Biden a one-term president. Swapping out Biden for another Democrat — something oft-proposed by easily excitable pundits — is a nonstarter; to raise just one objection, his most likely successor, Vice President Kamala Harris, is even more unpopular.
Let’s stipulate that the 2024 election is more than two-and-a-half years away. That’s a lifetime in polling terms. Further, re-electing Presidents is our default position. Still, Republicans have a built-in advantage in the Electoral College.
Virtually any political figure with an R next to his or her name will look like the favorite, with the possible exception of Trump, who inspires rabid loyalty among a contingent of the Republican base while actively scaring off the suburban swing voters needed to take back the White House.
But while Trump would be one of just a few Republicans who might actually struggle to beat Biden in a theoretical matchup, there are certainly ways for the GOP to improve its odds, beyond simply not nominating Trump. Indeed, there is one candidate who would almost certainly attract independent, moderate and even Democratic voters — perhaps enough of them to win something approaching a landslide, if current conditions hold.
As a plus, he’s no novice: In fact, he’s already run for president.
I am talking, of course, about Mitt Romney.
Soave’s case for Romney is plausible, so far as it goes:
The current junior senator from Utah, former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 GOP presidential candidate is less loved by some Republicans than he was a decade ago because the hardcore MAGA crowd considers him a traitor to Trump. But among non-Republicans, his star has never shone brighter. He has burnished his credibility as an independent-minded politician who is not afraid to challenge Trump: He is the only Republican senator who voted to convict the president in both impeachment trials.
This would be a massive liability in the Republican primaries, of course, but it’s a huge asset in a general election.
Romney’s foreign policy credentials would also play well in the current moment, especially since Russia’s aggression will undoubtedly remain an important campaign issue. It was Romney, after all, who named Russia the U.S.’s No. 1 geopolitical foe during a debate with President Barack Obama. That claim prompted derision from Obama, who said, “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back … the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”
That jape has not aged well. But Romney has.
At 74, he’s currently five years younger than Biden; in terms of his comparative energy level, he could be two decades younger than Biden. If his speeches and media appearances are any indication, Romney has lost little of his eloquence; his Jan. 6, 2021 speech following the attack on the U.S. Capitol — in which he lamented “a selfish man’s injured pride, and the outrage of supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed and stirred to action” — still resonates more than a year later.
It’s true that Romney paid a political price for breaking so decisively with Trump. But it has also made Romney one of the most independent minded political figure in the country’s history. It bears repeating that this independent streak would do him no favors in the Republican primaries. The MAGA faction demands nothing short of perfect loyalty to Trump. But many persuadable voters outside the Trump bubble will appreciate that Romney is a man of convictions who was willing to condemn and punish Trump’s behavior.
Democrats do not view Romney with the same knee-jerk fear and scorn that they feel for other Republicans. Among Democrats in Utah, Romney has an approval rating of 60%. He’s better liked by Democrats than he is by Republicans.
Romney is one of a handful of Republicans I would seriously consider were they the 2024 nominee. But one can’t just handwave “massive liability in the Republican primaries,” given that, to be the Republican nominee, one needs to do well in said contests. And, indeed, Soave more-or-less acknowledges this toward the end of the column.
There are still sane, decent Republican leaders out there. Alas, sanity and decency have become a massive liability with the party’s base.