A Romney Redux?

August 6, 2014

G. Terry Madonna & Michael L.Young

Is Mitt Romney becoming the once and future GOP nominee for president? Six months ago such a question might have been met with a polite smile or an elevated eyebrow.

But no longer!

President Obama’s low approval ratings combined with a snap back in Romney’s own popularity increasingly is driving speculation that the former Massachusetts Republican governor might try it one more time.

Several new polls show Romney besting Obama in a hypothetical rematch – one by almost 10 points. That’s quite a bump for someone who lost the actual 2012 election by four points in the popular vote while being crushed 332 to 206 in the Electoral College.

Romney’s new popularity has placed him in demand as a GOP surrogate traveling to 2014 key battleground states as diverse as North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia. Fall trips to presidential tripwire states like Iowa and New Hampshire are planned.

The once pallid, punch-less loser of 2012 has become the new bright and vigorous shining star of 2014 carrying his party’s hopes and its message to a weary electorate looking for a champion. Still, it isn’t a long stretch to speculate that Romney, who has already run for president twice, could ever hope to win another nomination.

Is this Romney revival likely to fade rapidly if he actually became a candidate?  Three shots at the presidency might be two too many for most voters.

Maybe not!

The prospect of a former major party nominee losing the presidency but coming back nevertheless to win a second nomination is not a familiar concept to most voters. That’s because neither major party has renominated a losing presidential candidate since 1968, almost a half century ago when Richard Nixon won after not only losing his presidential bid to John F. Kennedy in 1960, but also his bid for governor of California in 1962.

The median American voter, now about 37 years old, has never had a chance to vote for a losing major party nominee a second time because the average American voter wasn’t alive the last time it was possible to do so.

But that doesn’t mean it has never happened. In fact, the 50-year gap of no second nominations for losing presidential candidates is something of an historical aberration. Indeed, across the full two centuries plus of American national government eight men have been renominated by a major party at least once after losing their initial bid for the presidency: Thomas Jefferson; Andrew Jackson: William Henry Harrison:  Henry Clay; William Jennings Bryan; Thomas Dewey; Adlai Stevenson; and Nixon. More surprisingly perhaps, two of these eight, William Jennings Bryan and Henry Clay were nominated three times.
And a final historical statistic the growing horde of Romney backers will find tantalizing: of the eight candidates renominated by a major party, four of them, or fully 50 percent, won the presidency on their second try – Jefferson, Jackson, Harrison, and Nixon. (The percentage of former presidential losers that became winners actually increases, if the strange case of Grover Cleveland is included. Cleveland was nominated three times, winning twice, but not consecutively, and losing once.)
But the possibility that Romney could be nominated again in 2016 rests on more than history. He is arguably the leading figure in a party that is bereft of leading figures and far from a consensus on whom its 2016 candidate should be.

Then, too, renominating Romney would blessedly move the GOP away from its recent dubious practice that some irreverently call the “Kiwanis club model” -- in which the “next in line” in the previous nomination battle is nominated. Number two in 2012 was Rick Santorum, one of the more polarizing figures in the Republican Party.

Finally, as the GOP seems to lurch ever closer to becoming a regional party in national elections, Romney stands as one of a tiny few figures of national significance, bearing, and gravitas capable, perhaps, of leading the party to victory.

Romney might not excite the “base” anymore in 2016 than he did in 2012. But it might well turn out that failing to excite the base is the one thing a GOP candidate needs to win in 2016. Much more important will be winning the moderate vote in the suburbs of some six key states, something Romney is positioned to do.

Mitt Romney was not the perfect candidate in 2012, and he won’t be in 2016, if he runs. But he might be good enough in a year when the party clearly doesn’t have a better candidate in the wings. That may be all the GOP needs to win the White House in 2016.

Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly, and previous columns can be viewed at http://www.fandm.edu/politics. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2014 Terry Madonna and Michael Young.