Life after Mitt: How the 2016 GOP field, unbelievably, just got even worse

Christie panders on vaccination while Walker bumbles foreign policy. Are they the new leaders Romney made way for?

Published February 2, 2015 5:59PM (EST)

  (AP/Cliff Owen/Reuters/Adrees Latif)
(AP/Cliff Owen/Reuters/Adrees Latif)

The non-news that Mitt Romney won’t make a third unsuccessful run for the presidency broke on Friday. By Monday, the alleged beneficiaries of Romney’s move – supposedly moderate GOP Governors Scott Walker and Chris Christie – had already wounded themselves in ways that undid those alleged benefits, and then some.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, is clearly winning the GOP donors’ primary; Romney’s non-run is less a contributor to Bush’s strength than a measure of it.

But first, one last word about Romney. I think he pretended to be mulling another run for president to accomplish one thing – to allow his former campaign manger Stuart Stevens to write these words in The Daily Beast:

The political vital signs were positive; he could raise the money for the primary and was winning in each of the four early states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and even South Carolina, where in 2012 he lost to Newt Gingrich by 12 points. Most importantly, he did well with Republicans across the board, from those who considered themselves Tea Party voters and those who didn’t—a critical sign of broad-based support.

We are supposed to believe that a third campaign would have finally have shown us the real real Mitt Romney: gracious, kind, funny, humble – you know, the star of that HBO documentary “Mitt.” But in fact, Romney’s exit statement sounded like the Mitt we knew and didn’t love.

He said essentially the same thing Stevens did: “One poll out just today shows me gaining support and leading the next closest contender by nearly two to one. I also am leading in all of the four early states. So I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight."

In other words: I am leaving the field to new leaders, who I could have beaten anyway.

And he probably was right. Look what Chris Christie did as soon as Romney was out of the race. First, he went to a British soccer game on the day of Super Bowl Sunday, the better to let his enemies remind one another of his desperate owners’ box hug with the Dallas Cowboy’s Jerry Jones. That was supposed to make him look presidential, I guess, venturing abroad? Instead he looked ridiculous, in his red and white striped Arsenal muffler (maybe he was wearing a Cowboys T-shirt underneath?).

Even worse, of course, was his unfathomable nod to anti-vaccination crazies, that odd mix of entitled parents on the left and the right who are trying to bring back deadly childhood diseases we once conquered, having already triggered a measles outbreak. After touring a venture that makes a flu vaccine, Christie told the New York Times that while his own kids got their vaccinations, parents should have “some measure of choice” on the matter.

I haven’t been able to confirm reports that Christie has promised former Rep. Michele Bachmann that she will be the Health and Human Services Secretary in a Christie administration, but really, why not?

Then there’s Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. I’m going to confess up front that I am immune to Walker’s alleged political charm and savvy. He’s right: He’s won three races for governor in four years, if you count his recall, and I’ve consistently underestimated him. That said, Walker tried to bland his way through an interview with ABC “This Week’s” guest host Martha Raddatz and mostly succeeded, except for his stunning fail on foreign policy.

RADDATZ: Let's talk about some specific, and you talk about leadership and you talk about big, bold, fresh ideas. What is your big, bold, fresh idea in Syria?

WALKER: Well, I think - I go back to the red line.

RADDATZ: Let's not go back. Let's go forward. What is your big, bold idea in Syria?

WALKER: I think aggressively, we need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorist in and around the world, because it's not a matter of when they attempt an attack on American soil, or not if I should say, it's when, and we need leadership that says clearly, not only amongst the United States but amongst our allies, that we're willing to take appropriate action. I think it should be surgical.

RADDATZ: You don't think 2,000 air strikes is taking it to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

WALKER: I think we need to have an aggressive strategy anywhere around the world. I think it's a mistake to -


RADDATZ: But what does that mean? I don't know what aggressive strategy means. If we're bombing and we've done 2,000 air strikes, what does an aggressive strategy mean in foreign policy?

WALKER: I think anywhere and everywhere, we have to be - go beyond just aggressive air strikes. We have to look at other surgical methods. And ultimately, we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that's what it takes, because I think, you know--

RADDATZ: Boots on the ground in Syria? U.S. boots on the ground in Syria?

WALKER: I don't think that is an immediate plan, but I think anywhere in the world--

RADDATZ: But you would not rule that out.

WALKER: I wouldn't rule anything out. I think when you have the lives of Americans at stake and our freedom loving allies anywhere in the world, we have to be prepared to do things that don't allow those measures, those attacks, those abuses to come to our shores.

Clearly Walker got his word salad recipe from Sarah Palin. Nonetheless, NBC News’s influential “First Read” is calling Walker “man of the hour,” largely because he’s currently leading in Iowa polling, while Christie is in what the NBC folks politely call “Giuliani territory.”

Now, as a columnist on the left wing of the Democratic Party, I have it easy: I don’t have to pretend to take any of these people seriously in order to maintain them as “sources” or guests for my news show. I can merely appreciate their mediocrity and confidently pronounce that they will never be president. Still, one of them will be the GOP nominee. But it won’t be Christie, and it’s unlikely to be Walker.




By Joan Walsh