Mark Shields: Romney bluffed out of running in 2016
You’re Mitt Romney, and today you have to be upset with yourself. Eight months ago — when you, a non-candidate, were leading in all the polls for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — you paid too much attention to a Wall Street Journal editorial that began, “If Mitt Romney is the answer, what is the question? We can think of a few worthy possibilities, though one that doesn’t come immediately to mind is who would be the best Republican presidential nominee in 2016.”
According to 2012 exit polls of real live voters, the electorate rated challenger Mitt Romney superior to President Barack Obama on being “a strong leader,” on having a “vision for the future” and in the “shares my values” category, giving the Democrat a decisive advantage only in the “cares about people like me” category. But The Wall Street Journal (which in 1980 had been the national cheerleader for Ronald Reagan’s third try, after two previous failed efforts, to win the GOP nomination) judged Romney’s campaign to have been a “calamity” that disqualified him from another White House run. The Journal’s editorial page announced, “Republicans are likely to have a far better field in 2016, so voters won’t lack for plausible Presidents.”
So how’s that “better field” of “plausible Presidents” thing working out for the leading voice of American conservatism and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, who openly rhapsodized about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and who publicly reproached Romney as a “terrible candidate”?
It has to hurt, if you’re Romney, to admit that Bush’s super PAC last January, by signing up for 2016 the Iowa operative who had helped run your 2008 and 2012 campaigns in the Hawkeye State and Bush by switching some of your fundraisers to the Bush side, tilted you against running again. Back in the winter, Bush was riding high in the public polls. Since then, he has faded badly in those same surveys. Now Romney must face the unpleasant truth that he was bluffed out of the 2016 poker game essentially by a guy holding just a pair of deuces.
While Romney the candidate often came across as an emotional stiff in the 2012 campaign, he never allowed voters to see him as a husband or parent. That side of him was on appealing view in “Mitt,” a remarkable documentary shot over six years that shows how highly Romney the man values family. As a grandfather of 22, Romney, to this observer, who was not a political fan of his, is beyond impressive. He is openly affectionate and playful with his grandchildren, all of whom are obviously excited to see their grandpa and run to hug him.
In a Republican field of tough-talking chest-thumpers who regularly make speeches about how they can’t wait to get tough with Vladimir Putin or the Chinese or Bashar Assad but who have failed, when given the chance, to even stand up to the tougher-talking Donald Trump, Romney would look like another Ike. If you’re Mitt Romney, you may have made the proper decision personally not to run for president this time. But as the man who went toe-to-toe in the pressure cooker of your first presidential debate against the eloquently confident Barack Obama — and clearly bested him — politically you have to lament your choice not to run in what would have been, in fact, a winnable race.