After making choices, people are always vulnerable to feelings of regret. This is true of our purchases, among other things, and also of voting. Recent polls have indicated that many Americans are regretting the outcome of the 2012 presidential elections. In a July CNN/ORC survey, 48% of Americans believed that President Obama is a “strong and decisive leader,” and only 42% thought that he “can manage the government effectively.” Compare these poll numbers to those from a similar questionnaire in May 2013, and there is a consistent pattern of decline; at that time, 58% of Americans believed that the president was a strong leader, and 52% thought him to be an effective manager of the government. In little over a year, President Obama’s poll numbers in these two areas dropped by ten percentage points each. It is no surprise, therefore, that Emil Henry could write the following passage in a July article for Politico Magazine:
“Call Mitt Romney what you will, but his core competence is just that: competence. Unlike career politicians who tend to rise and fall on the level of their oratory, Mitt is, at his core, a chief executive. No doubt Mitt is more comfortable tackling complex problems and analyzing data than kissing babies or yucking it up on a rope line. But maybe that’s what America needs in 2016, and given the multitude of today’s challenges, maybe […] it’s what we needed all along.”
Have American voters lost so much confidence in the president that they regret even re-electing him, and not electing Mitt Romney? The previously mentioned poll provides an answer: yes. That survey asked respondents how they would vote if the election were held again. The results: Romney – 53%, Obama – 44%. So, given their regrets about the outcome of the 2012 elections, are American voters rethinking Mitt Romney?
Voters have some particularly strong concerns about the results of President Obama’s foreign policy. As was mentioned earlier, many Americans no longer see the president as “strong,” and this perception has been reinforced in some ways by Obama’s handling of the situation in Ukraine. In 2012, Mitt Romney expressed his concern about what he saw as increasing aggression by Russia under its president, Vladimir Putin. This July, Alex Wong wrote an article titled “What Mitt Romney Got Right,” in which he argued that “for the Obama campaign, history stopped the day the Soviet Union fell. Throughout 2012, it was perpetually 1991. But Romney was clear-eyed about Putin, and about the divergences between the ex-KGB agent’s interests and America’s own.” Yet, despite many voters’ retroactive desire to have a President Romney, is this desire strong enough to propel the one-time GOP nominee to a third candidacy?
There are come strong factors that favor a 2016 candidacy for Romney. Last month, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll indicated that, if he ran, Romney would lead the Republican field by a sizable margin. As a former nominee, he would also enjoy name recognition, and could deploy a fundraising network that other candidates could only dream of wielding. And, despite his statements to the contrary, Romney probably does want to be the President of the United States. A candidate who has run before clearly wants the job, regardless of whether or not he or she loses. In 2008, Romney failed to secure the GOP nomination. In 2012, Romney won the nomination, but failed to reach the presidency. Perhaps, deep within his own mind, Romney thinks that 2016 could be, should be different. If the way is relatively open, why would he hold back from running again? This quote from Edmund Burke might describe Romney’s mindset at this point: “Ambition can creep as well as soar.”
However, there are some valid concerns about yet another Romney candidacy. Jeff Crouere of the Chicago Tribune wrote that “Romney was not a particularly good presidential candidate in two nationwide elections.” Conservative Ramesh Ponnuru argued in a Bloomberg View article that the former nominee “never seemed to grasp the reasons the Republican Party has performed poorly in recent years, chief among them the public’s skepticism that Republican policies would do anything for most people.” Steve Huntley of the Chicago Sun-Times put it most simply: “While Romney might have been the president the country needs today, it’s not so clear he’s the candidates of tomorrow.”
It seems that most of the arguments against a third Romney candidacy either revolve around or are at least influenced by a sort of “Romney fatigue,” and understandably so. The former Massachusetts governor has spent more time running for president than he spent serving in public office. However, 2016 could very well be the year of “candidate fatigue.” Just look at the Democratic Party and its front-runner for the nomination in 2016! John Dickerson of Slate wrote last year that “President Obama was the most fresh-faced candidate in modern times…now Democrats are lining up to nominate the most encrusted candidate in a long time.” My point is basically this: “Romney fatigue” might certainly be a concern for Republicans, but not as much as “Clinton fatigue” is for Democrats.
In the end, it’s difficult to tell if “rethinking Romney” is just “regretting Obama” by another name. Losing nominees have been able to reclaim their party’s crown and win the presidency; Richard Nixon is the most notable example of this. But is Romney too damaged, too battered to run again and win? A third Romney candidacy might have two possible outcomes. The American electorate could reject Romney as the loser from 2012. Or, voters could look at Mitt Romney, warts and all, as the one to lead this nation into the post-Obama era.