Mitt Romney is the hottest brand in Republican politics right now, according to people close to Mitt Romney. Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins reports that Romney’s pared-down inner circle of advisers, confidants and hangers-on are holding up victories by three Mitt-endorsed Republican candidates this week as proof that the ol’ Romney magic is back.
The elections featured a trio of Romney-endorsed Republicans beating back challenges from the tea party by filling their coffers with establishment cash, and appealing to electoral pragmatism. In Idaho, Rep. Mike Simpson defeated his primary opponent with $4 million raised by allies like the United States Chamber of Commerce. In Pennsylvania, incumbent Rep. Bill Shuster triumphed over a challenge from the right. And in Oregon, Monica Wehby, a pro-abortion rights neurosurgeon who many Republicans have touted as a rising star, emerged victorious despite a last-minute character assault led by Democrats.
“I think the Romney brand has had a real resurgence after the campaign,” one Romney friend said, “and a lot of Republicans realized, hey this guy was right about a lot of things, and they realize his endorsement carries significant weight.”
There are two things to point out here. The first is that nobody actually likes Mitt Romney or his “brand.” Romney won the Republican nomination in 2012 only after struggling to beat off challenges from clowns like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. There was a brief window of time – between the first 2012 presidential debate and Election Day – in which Republicans pretended to like Mitt Romney because it seemed possible that he might actually beat Barack Obama. But then he lost and everyone rediscovered their natural dislike of the man.
The second is that endorsements tend not to matter when it comes to influencing voter decisions. They generate headlines and excite horserace-obsessed political reporters, but the people actually casting the ballots don’t care. An endorsement from someone like Mitt Romney matters only in the sense that it means a pretty sizeable check will be headed that candidate’s way.
So this idea of “Romney Republicanism” suddenly catching fire is a bit ridiculous. There are far more satisfying explanations for why Romney’s candidates won. Both Simpson and Shuster have served in Congress for a long time, and incumbency is a powerful asset. Simpson ran a well-financed race against a hopelessly outmatched challenger whose Tea Party support dried up in the weeks leading up to the primary. Wehby’s challenger was an inept fundraiser who ended up having to cut himself checks to stay in the race.
You’ll notice the theme emerging here. Candidates like Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney has money. And Mitt Romney, having all that money, wants to support candidates who will look out for the interests of wealthy people like himself. This isn’t “Romney Republicanism” so much as it is garden variety Republicanism. The tea party, however you want to define it, is currently in decline, so Mitt’s throwing his support behind the candidates who can best represent his interests – specifically, the establishment-backed candidates with the best chances of winning.
If Team Romney wants to spin that as a groundswell for an underappreciated former standard-bearer for the party, that’s their prerogative. But the Romney “brand,” such as it is, begins and ends with his bank account number.