The sad dream of Romney '16: Mitt could run! (if all the other candidates are terrible)

Mitt's aides envision him riding to GOP's rescue when no strong '16 candidate emerges. Here's why that won't happen

Published October 7, 2014 4:58PM (EDT)

Mitt Romney, at Bailey's Bubble ice cream in Wolfeboro, N.H.         (AP/Charles Dharapak)
Mitt Romney, at Bailey's Bubble ice cream in Wolfeboro, N.H. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

The speculation surrounding a potential third run for the White House by Willard Mitt “Mitt” Romney is starting to feel a bit desperate. The animus behind it seems to be the Republican establishment’s fear – and a thoroughly justified fear it is – that the party will end up nominating a Tea Party-type candidate who will excite the base and warm the hearts of conservative activists, but won’t be able to expand his appeal to people who may not want to abolish IRS. And so they’ve been talking up Romney not because he’s an especially good candidate (he’s not) and not because America is suddenly clamoring for Romneyism (it isn’t), but because he’s a known quantity, he’s rich, and he’s on board with the establishment agenda.

The pro-Romney forces, however, also seem to be coming to grips with the fact that Romney is, by most accounts, a broken man (politically) whose already lukewarm enthusiasm for the political life was chilled by his 2012 electoral pantsing. Mark Liebovich’s profile of Mitt for the New York Times paints a picture of a lonely, wistful man who seeks isolation but still craves relevance. And so the Recruit Romney effort is now dreaming up scenarios in which Mitt can run for president without really wanting to.

National Journal’s Rebecca Nelson is the latest journalist to dive into the strange world of Romney 2016 activism, and it turns out that Romney’s inner circle has a dream… a sad, sad dream.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and the chance to beat Obama won't ever come again. But under a special set of circumstances, Romney's closest advisers see a window—albeit a small one—for the onetime GOP nominee to get in the race.

"I think he wants to be in a position where if everyone else implodes, he's the one that party leaders call to save the day," one former Romney adviser told National Journal.

"Could he be drafted?” Nelson quotes former Romney adviser Ron Kaufman saying. “Could everyone from the party come and say, 'You have to run because you're the only person'? Is that possible? Sure.”

Guys… this is not a good look.

There’s actually a rich history of would-be candidates arguing that they might run for president but only if no one else who can win enters the race. And usually the people who make this argument are on the downslide politically and/or are desperate to get their names in a few headlines.

Here’s a short list of reluctant would-be Republican Party saviors who’ve said they’ll run but only if a good candidate doesn’t show up:

Sarah Palin: “If they want a fighter, if they want someone who can so respect our exceptionalism, everything that makes America great, the promise of America. And if we don't find that, then I would run.”

Rudy Giuliani: “If I think we are truly desperate, then I may run — which is how I got elected mayor of New York City.”

Donald Trump: “Everybody tells me, 'Please run for president. Please run for president.' I would be much happier if a great and competent person came along.”

It’s a self-defeating argument for a candidate to make. Instead of promoting yourself as the right person for the job, you’re telling everyone that you’re only doing it because everyone else is terrible. And while it may be true that everyone else is terrible, that doesn’t make you a winner by default. “I don’t want this but everyone else sucks so vote for me I guess” is a less-than-inspiring campaign message. It also suffers from inconsistent core logic: if you believe you can win, why make the relative weakness of the competition a prerequisite for your candidacy?

Romney, for his part, seems smart enough to know that he shouldn’t willingly throw himself into this trap. Mitt was the special guest on the debut episode of Mark Halperin’s and John Heilemann’s new politics program on Bloomberg TV yesterday, and they came right out and asked him if he was just waiting to see if the 2016 field was a crop of washouts before jumping in. "If you look out and see no Jeb Bush, no Chris Christie, no one who you think can raise the money, compete against the Democratic nominee, then you'll think about it?" Romney laughed it off and told them “I’m not running, I’m not planning on running.”

But while Romney’s doing what he can to keep some of his reputation intact, the people around him apparently have no problem making the man look desperate. They seem to believe that their former boss and political idol can rise to the highest political office in the land by simply being the least bad of all available options. The irony is, of course, that that is how Romney got the nomination the last time around. He was the least objectionable candidate in the 2012 Republican field, and he still struggled mightily to put away Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum on his way to a convincing loss in the general.

That’s the magic the Draft Mitt movement wants to recapture.

By Simon Maloy

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