Is there anything more American than the spectacle of two entitled rich guys fighting over who gets to be the presidential candidate of the 1 percent? First former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced he’s “exploring” the race, and the next thing you know Mitt Romney says: “Me too!”
It’s true Romney hadn’t ruled out running for president, but he was sounding relentlessly skeptical about a third try – until Bush announced his presidential explorations. By “exploring,” Bush meant corralling the party’s major donors, many of them former Romney backers, who are terrified by the idea of the nominating process being hijacked by eccentric Sen. Rand Paul or a can’t-win Christian right loser like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee or the terrifying Ted Cruz.
That’s all it took for Romney to let supporters “leak” the news Friday that he, too, was “exploring” another bid.
Over the weekend the Washington Post ran a long profile of the relationship between the two men, which it said was characterized by “competitiveness and snippiness.” It’s a fun read. Apparently Mitt’s still mad that Bush took his time endorsing him in 2012, waiting until after Florida’s crucial primary (which Romney won anyway), and that he criticized Romney’s campaign moves on immigration.
Also: Romney is worried that Bush’s work for Lehman Brothers and Barclays “makes Bush vulnerable to the same kind of Democratic attacks that he faced in 2012 over his career as Bain Capital co-founder and chief executive.”
That makes Romney the logical alternative how?
The piece makes the rationale for a Romney run sound like a tantrum: “Jeb endorsed me too late, he criticized my campaign, and if one idle plutocrat who hasn't won public office for more than a decade can become president, it's going to be me!"
In fact, the real driving force seems to be entitlement. As Bill Kristol put it (and he knows a thing or two about nepotism and entitlement): “A Romney-Bush race would be more personal — about whose turn it is and who is owed it.”
“Whose turn it is and who is owed it.” That reminded me of Ann Romney telling ABC’s Diane Sawyer in 2012: “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now.”
Bush and Romney are two sons of wealthy accomplished fathers, two sons of noblesse oblige. One father won the presidency (but alas, only for one term); the other was cruelly denied it. Both ran for governor in states where registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans and won. Both are rightly skeptical of the long term future of a party that only attracts white people, but Romney caved to the right when he ran in 2012; Bush seems to think he can get away without doing that.
At least Bush seems to have a rationale for a run -- to articulate a new way of talking about Latinos and gay people that probably doesn't lead to policy changes, but at least tests whether kinder, gentler rhetoric can help grow the party nationally. What is Romney’s? He’s told friends “he considers poverty the topic du jour.” But poverty was just as high in 2012 and Romney had no answer for it – except to famously disdain “the 47 percent of Americans…who won’t take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Although as a Democrat I’d enjoy the spectacle, I find it very unlikely both Bush and Romney will run. The GOP’s donor class can’t control the Tea Party, but they can probably force one of these guys to the sidelines, if he doesn’t go willingly, and I’d guess it’s Romney. He sounded convinced, and convincing, in the documentary “Mitt,” when he told his family, “My time on the stage is over, guys.” No longer clinging to the notion that “it’s our turn now,” Ann Romney agreed. “We're done,” she said.
Though Romney is now telling friends that the once-reluctant Ann is on board with a third run, she was right back in 2012. They’re done.