For the past several weeks, the media and the Republican Party have been abuzz with talk related to a most unexpected of topics: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. If the pundits are to be believed, the two-time GOP presidential candidate will soon launch a third campaign for the White House, a prospect as warmly received by social moderates as scorned by the Tea Party. Mere months ago, such chatter would have been dismissed as irrational and laughable, the result of a lack of knowledge regarding the contemporary state of national politics, or even an unwillingness to accept the reality that Governor Romney’s political career was all but finished.
And yet, against all odds, Mitt has undergone something of a rejuvenation lately. From James Carville to Pat Buchanan, prominent voices see Romney 2016 on the horizon. This unexpected resurgence in popularity, accompanied by the respect and admiration that was unachievable during his doomed presidential candidacies, means that for the first time in his career, Mitt Romney is considered “cool.” But why wouldn’t he be? He “slow jammed the news” during a funky appearance on Jimmy Fallon, danced to Korean disco track “Gangnam Style” before a cheering audience, and was the focus of Mitt, a popular (and humanizing) documentary. As a private citizen, Romney is much more relatable than he was as a candidate.
There are certainly those who reject the likelihood of a 2016 bid, arguing the former Governor has run and lost twice before. These skeptics are quick to ask why voters would invest any confidence in an individual who has already proven he will not become President of the United States. It sounds like a valid point, but students of history will recognize both Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan endured failed candidacies before arriving on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Should Governor Romney seek to re-establish himself within the Republican primaries, it would not be without precedent. Given the lack of other credible candidates and his successes re-inventing his public image, it wouldn’t be unbelievable either, if he can stay “cool,” even when competing for votes alongside more socially conservative, ideologically pure candidates. Last cycle’s drawn out primaries, where the moderate Romney was forced to move farther Right to siphon support from Senator Rick Santorum and a slew of other Tea Partiers, damaged his brand among independents and moderates. Next time, the GOP would need to squash a Tea Party insurgency early on.
Though Governor Romney has denied interest in running in 2016, he has certainly acted like a presidential aspirant lately, touring the country on behalf of Congressional candidates and taking every opportunity to encourage buyers’ remorse among those who cast their ballots for President Obama. Thus, it was hardly earth shattering news when it was announced Mitt would appear at Governor Christie’s birthday party on September 10th. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the event, there was a great deal of excitement, as two of the most highly speculated presidential candidates within the GOP would share the same stage, and do so in New Jersey!
Taking the podium at the Hilton in East Brunswick, Governor Romney certainly looked the part of a presidential candidate, briefly addressing all the pertinent issues of the day and piling heaps of praise upon the Christie Administration. And yet, when the speech turned to President Obama and the issue of ISIS, Governor Romney’s potential as a candidate really shined through.
“Three years ago, there were people saying to the president, ‘you need have a strategy in Syria, you should be finding the moderates and supporting them,’” he said. “Now, three years later—tonight—he’ll be speaking…finally doing that. Now we have something known as ISIS. Months ago, leaders in Congress were saying, ‘watch out for this group, prepare for this group.’ And then he admits the other day he doesn’t have a strategy yet. It’s extraordinary that we don’t have a president who knows what to do!”
Though largely a matter of personal opinion, these criticisms were warmly received by attendees and are typical Republican talking points, particularly within the mainstream of the party’s base. However, it was what Governor Romney said afterward that betrayed he is likely considering another run for the White House. Amidst attacks against the Obama Administration, Romney made it clear Republicans should support the President’s battle against ISIS.
“Unfortunately, Al Qaeda is not on the run, and the jihadists are not on the run, and Isis is not on the run yet,” Governor Romney said. “But I’ll tell you, we are finally going to do what needs to get done in this country and elect people, and fight for people, and support the president at this time, and make sure that we stop these awful people from exacting such terror on the world!”
It was a clever comment, a sign Romney is trying to position himself as a unifier in divisive times. Yes, he is a Republican. Yes, he disapproves of the President. Yes, he would handle things differently. However, he isn’t going to let partisan differences stand in the way of fighting ISIS or backing President Obama when he takes a stand against terrorism. Such are the views of a presidential candidate, someone who wants to have broad appeal among Republicans, Democrats, and independents moving forward.
Who are the Presidents Americans remember most fondly? Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, the unifiers who were willing to reach across the aisle. Maybe, Governor Romney has finally learned that polarization breeds animus and defeat. We can only hope that if Governor Romney decides to run for president one more time, he will stay “cool” and extend the olive branch to those neglected during his previous campaign.