Mitt Had the Heart but Not the Guts

By Roger Simon

February 3, 2015 6 min read

Mitt Romney has done a lasting service to America. By returning once again to the dustbin of history, he leaves behind a powerful message for future generations:

When the going gets tough, the tough fold up.

On Jan. 9, Romney told his base — fat cats, plutocrats, magnates, moguls and tycoons — that he was considering a run for president in 2016. Who else, after all, had better knowledge or experience when it came to protecting the interests of fat cats, plutocrats, magnates, moguls and tycoons?

Romney then did what any canny businessman would do: He assembled a group of people to tell him what he wanted to hear.

He brought together much of the same coterie he had when he ran for president in 2012. This was his innermost clique, his band of brothers, his ring kissers.

He asked them a few questions. Could they raise oodles and oodles of money for him?

Romney has oodles and oodles of his own money. But if there is one rule of modern campaigning, it is this: When other people are daffy enough to give you their money, there is no reason to risk your own money.

The ring kissers answered quickly. They could raise tons of money. No worries. The nation is full of rich saps.

But could the campaign coterie make Mitt warm and likable? Mitt asked. He had read all these stories the previous time he ran that he was inauthentic. Was there any way he could fake some sincerity for 2016?

Not to worry, those in the coterie said. They would have Mitt mingle with the hoi polloi and find out how the 99 percent live. So Mitt went down to Mississippi State University last Wednesday.

He gave a speech saying that ending poverty was a real goal of his and then stopped at the Little Dooey barbecue joint for a pulled pork sandwich. He even gave every indication he actually knew what a pulled pork sandwich is.

During his visit, he poked fun at Hillary Clinton, saying that he doesn't care about massive speaking fees. "As you may have heard," he said, "I'm already rich."

His coterie was delighted. Romney really seemed to get it. There would be a new Romney for 2016, a Romney 3.0, who would be warm, caring and authentic whenever such emotions needed to be feigned.

Romney led the polls. Although, not everybody was convinced. I, for one, have a simple rule about polls: When I disagree with what the polls are saying, the polls are wrong.

Which is why on Jan. 14, I tweeted, "There is no significant constituency within the GOP that thinks Romney is the solution and not the problem."

I believed it then, and I believe it now. The right wing thought he was a phony. The religious right thought he was a phony. The establishment wing of the party — a doddering handful of survivors with checkbooks and defibrillators — preferred Jeb Bush and his blueblood credentials.

Who really liked Mitt Romney? Which is to ask: Who really liked a loser?

Romney believed in himself, but he wanted a guarantee that he was going to win. And his coterie could not deliver that.

Yes, those in his inner circle said, they could raise money and he would probably win the nomination. But he would get roughed up and might lose to Hillary Clinton.

According to The New York Times, Romney's longtime finance chief, Spencer Zwick, told him that "even if he prevailed in a primary, he would be battered and bruised by the general election."

Tagg Romney, Romney's eldest son, said: "He decided he could be the nominee. The fear was that in order to get there, it was going to be so hard-fought that he could not emerge from a position of strength."

A Romney adviser said: "We thought it was possible. But it would be hard. The polls had him up. That was residual name ID. But he can't carry that for a year. It would have been a fight."

So Romney decided not to fight. Kevin Madden, a former Romney adviser, said that ultimately, it was a question of the head versus the heart.

Madden is a very smart guy, and I respect him, but I think he's got his anatomy wrong. Ultimately, Romney lacked not heart but guts.

Running for president is a grueling test, a meat grinder. And why shouldn't it be? The presidency is a tough job, and it demands a tough test to weed out those without the stamina and strength to perform in it.

So 21 days after sticking his toe in the water, Romney withdrew it.

"I am convinced that we could win the nomination," he told supporters in a conference call, "but fully realize it would have been a difficult test and a hard fight."

He got some credit from Republicans for dropping out. But some Democrats crowed. "Congratulations to Mitt Romney for finally saying something the American people want to hear," John Dingell, a former congressman from Michigan, tweeted.

Mitt Romney made the right decision. Why should he want difficult tests and hard fights?

Running for president is a trial by combat. You can't get there by riding in a car elevator.

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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