Poor Willard Mitt Romney can't catch a break. It hasn't even been a week since he signaled to his base -- a group of wealthy fundraisers in New York -- that he plans on mounting a third White House campaign in 2016, and he already confronts a backlash so intense that even some of his most loyal supporters -- including his 2012 footsoldier Jennifer Rubin and that guy who had Romney's campaign logo tattooed onto his face -- say it's time to give somebody else a chance. Almost precisely one year after the premiere of Netflix's "Mitt" documentary generated some measure of sympathy for the erstwhile candidate and inspired calls for Romney to give the presidency another try, conservatives are recoiling at the prospect of yet another Romney campaign, now that it's about to become a reality.
In a scathing editorial on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reminded conservatives of everything they detested about the man many Republicans only grudgingly supported two years ago. Sure, the editors allowed, Mitt may be an upstanding family man, but he carries far too much political baggage: As governor of Massachusetts, Romney affirmed the radical notion that everyone should have health insurance, and his 2012 campaign was notorious for unforced errors -- "self-deportation," "47 percent," "severely conservative."
“The question the former Massachusetts Governor will have to answer is why he would be a better candidate than he was in 2012," the editorial board wrote. "The answer is not obvious."
Similarly, Jonah Goldberg penned a column in which he called the budding Romney 2016 campaign "an art-house film thinking it’s a blockbuster franchise and that there’s a huge market for another sequel."
"There's not," Goldberg added. Much of the GOP establishment agrees.
The anti-Romney groundswell, of course, was perfectly predictable. Many Tea Party conservatives harbor deep suspicion, if not outright antipathy, toward the onetime Massachusetts moderate, while no small number of establishment bigwigs, desperate to reclaim the presidency for the party next year, are horrified by the idea of nominating a man who's well on his way becoming a perennial candidate.
But Romney reportedly plans to run anyway -- even though nobody saw the anti-Mitt backlash coming more than the once and future candidate himself.
As speculation surrounding another Romney run intensified last year, he swatted down the notion. Romney knew that his poll numbers had inched upward since his loss to President Obama, but he also understood that this was largely the byproduct of stepping out of the political limelight. Once he tossed his hat into the ring, the accolades and the popularity would surely subside. "The unavailable is always the most attractive, right? That goes in dating as well," as Romney put it.
That was the cool, analytical Romney on display. Even as some GOP donors and longtime loyalists clamored for Mitt to run again, the former management consultant seemed to realize that his time had passed and victory would likely prove elusive if he took the plunge. Romney remembered all too well his unsuccessful effort to convince conservatives he was one of them in 2008, and how he nearly lost the 2012 nomination to a man who in his last election had been ousted from his Senate seat by 18 points. With a new crop of formidable contenders poised to enter the 2016 contest, another campaign looked like a fool's errand.
Romney's change of heart is enough to leave even the most seasoned political observers asking what, in God's name, he is thinking. This much is clear: At some point over the last few months, Romney apparently concluded he wants to be president so badly that he's willing to risk the humiliation of losing yet again. When and if that happens, he won't be able to say he didn't warn himself.