Is Romney Really a Loser for Life?
Unlikely as it might seem, Mitt Romney actually put it best.
"I have looked at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee of their party," he says. "They become a loser for life."
Here he makes a gesture with his right hand, forming his thumb and index finger into an "L" and holding it up to his forehead as if it were a branding iron.
"We just brutalize whoever loses," Romney says. "I know that. I know that."
This is from the documentary "Mitt," which was released this year and covers Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
Romney was aware that if he ran for the nomination in 2008 and failed to get it, this would not be fatal. Numerous failed nominees have gone on to get the nomination in future contests.
But if one gets the nomination and then fails to win the presidency, that is a different story.
Republican Thomas Dewey did it, losing in both 1944 and 1948. Democrat Adlai Stevenson did it, losing in both 1952 and 1956. And Richard Nixon did it, losing the presidency in 1960, but winning it in 1968.
But this is ancient history in political terms. In modern times, if you get your party's nomination and then lose the general election, nobody wants to hear from you again.
"Mike Dukakis is mowing lawns," Romney says.
But Romney enters the fray anyway, losing the nomination in 2008, winning the nomination in 2012, but losing the general election.
So Romney should be, by his own analysis, a "loser for life."
But odd things are happening. Republican candidates have been asking him to stump for them in the November elections, and he has been glad to oblige.
A CNN/ORC poll released in late July asked people whom they would vote for if the 2012 election were held again. Romney won by 9 percentage points, 53 percent to 44 percent. (In the actual election, Romney lost by 3.9 percentage points.)
One can dismiss this as typical buyer's remorse: Presidents never quite live up to expectations, and challengers always look better in retrospect. But one senior Republican strategist told me dryly: "I don't remember anyone urging John Kerry to run for president again after he lost."
Is anybody really urging Romney to run again, however?
Iowans seem to like the idea. A recent Suffolk University poll of Iowa caucus-goers showed Romney topping the field with 35 percent and Mike Huckabee an almost invisible second with just 9 percent.
"I'd love to run for president; I loved running for president," Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt last week. "Had I believed I would actually be best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton, then I would be running."
Romney says, however, that some player to be named later could be a better candidate.
Republicans are already looking past their biggest weakness — the current Republican field — to what they believe will be their biggest strength: Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer for Obama's third term.
"I think Hillary is going to own the Obama record," Stuart Stevens, who was Romney's chief strategist in 2012, told me. "In many ways, it looks like 2016 will be a referendum on Obama in the same way 2008 was a referendum on (George W.) Bush."
And that is the race Republicans would like: to bury Hillary's popularity under Obama's unpopularity. But Hillary could upset that strategy by distancing herself from Obama, couldn't she?
Stevens doesn't think so. "When Hillary says something even mildly critical of the Obama administration, the Democratic base erupts with hostility," Stevens said.
Hillary Clinton is no dope, however. She will find a way to distance herself from Obama where she can. But this plays right into the Romney game plan, said one former top Romney aide.
"Hillary Clinton doesn't want to be Barack Obama? Fine," said the aide. "The person who is most not Barack Obama is Mitt Romney. If he decided to run, he'd have a good chance."
Dan Balz, author of "Collision 2012: The Future of Election Politics in a Divided America," just released in paperback, said that Romney was not a particularly good campaigner in 2012 but "he had some things to say in the campaign that look smarter in retrospect than they did at the time."
Balz says that Romney's campaign statements about Russia being "a geopolitical foe" today look "more astute than he was given credit for."
But Balz is not predicting that Romney will run in 2016. He said Romney seems "genuinely resistant" to running.
So what could cause Romney to change his mind?
"It could only happen if the field looks weak or if it looks like no one from the establishment wing is getting any traction," Balz said. "One reason there is interest in Romney today is that the 2016 field looks so unsettled."
Romney laid out his own scenario for running. "Let's say all the guys that were running all came together and said, 'Hey, we've decided we can't do it. You must do it,'" Romney said in the interview with Hewitt. "That's the one out of a million we're thinking about."
One out of a million might seem like very long odds to you and me. But what's a million to Mitt Romney?
Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist. His new e-book, "Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America," can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
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