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The Rehabilitation of the Retreads

Mitt Romney, Rick Perry

To the chagrin of many conservative activists, two of the more prominent figures on the 2012 campaign trail are giving every indication of running again and are getting a lot of attention from the media. The first is Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has used a series of impressive appearances dealing with the border crisis to vault himself back into the national spotlight, where he has impressed far more than he did during his abortive 2012 run:

“The lessons I learned in 2011 were frustrating and humbling,” the Texas Republican says. “I may have been a little arrogant in my thinking that I had been the governor of Texas for 12 years and what could be harder than that?”

He found out quickly that some things are harder. And running for president of the United States is one of them.

He admits that engaging “in an intellectual discussion about the affairs of this world takes a substantial amount of preparation, and I did not do that.”

“With that said, I know what is required now. I am going through that process of being prepared. And, so, I may decide that this is not right for me, right for my family — and if I do, that will be what that will be.”

This is the summer of Rick Perry, and he is making the most of his position on the national stage — thanks to more than 50,000 unaccompanied illegal-alien children who flooded the Texas border.

Gone is the sluggish, fumbling, unprepared Republican candidate from August 2011 who was still recovering from back surgery. In his place, at age 64, is a substantive, charming, confident governor taking on the president in a way no other potential candidate could — based on knowing how to deal with the issue at hand, the border.

The other is Mitt Romney, who has enjoyed a modest resurgence of late capitalizing on a number of predictions he made in the course of 2012 that have come true, much to the chagrin of Obama. Romney may be in the ideal position to capitalize on the policy faceplants of presumptive establishment candidate Jeb Bush to fill that particular void:

President Obama thumped Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, but now their political standings seem reversed. During a summer in which Democratic candidates are keeping their distance from an unpopular president, Romney is emerging as one of the Republican Party’s most in-demand campaign surrogates.

Over three days in mid-August, Romney will campaign for GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates in West Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas, aides said. In September, he is planning visits to the presidential swing states of Colorado and Virginia.

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Asked whether he and other Republican officials are coalescing around Romney as a 2016 favorite, Mead said: “There is a movement afoot. . . . I’d tell him, ‘Governor Romney, people here in Wyoming and around the country would encourage you to take another look at it.’ ”

Supporters also point to Obama’s struggles on crises ranging from his health-care law to Russian aggression to conflict in the North African country of Mali — all issues Romney raised in the 2012 campaign — and say time has proved Romney right.

I am in favor, generally speaking, of a larger primary field that sorts itself out on the relative merits of the candidates. This time, though, there are persuasive reasons why neither candidate would be an ideal fit for 2016. In the first place, the slate of available Republican candidates in 2016 is much stronger than it was in 2012. Romney ultimately became the candidate everyone settled on only after a number of other frankly nonserious candidates (like Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, to name but a couple) definitively flamed out. Without the presence of an incumbent on the ballot, there isn’t as persuasive of a need for a “ham sandwich” candidate.

Second, and more importantly (especially in the case of Romney), the opponent in 2016 will not be Obama but presumably will be Hillary Clinton (or, in the event of a truly shocking turn of events, perhaps Elizabeth Warren). The bottom line reason that Mitt Romney lost in 2012 is that his campaign flopped with women. Romney faced the largest gender gap in modern history – he won men in the United States by 10% and still lost the election. One would presume that his campaign would fare equally poorly or worse running against one of the two Democrat women who is likely to get the nomination. And indeed a recent CNN poll that showed Romney handily winning a hypothetical rematch with Obama likewise showed him getting his clock cleaned in a hypothetical matchup with Hillary Clinton.

We don’t have such hard data for Rick Perry but from a style standpoint his demeanor presents some possible up-front difficulties. The Republican nominee (probably male, at this point) will have to attack the record of one of two women, which is a delicate task to manage without turning off women voters. While Perry at his best oozes gravitas and competence, the Republican nominee will have to successfully navigate difficult rhetorical waters without almost any rhetorical missteps. Even if Perry’s performance in 2016 is significantly improved from his performance in 2012, it still may not be enough.

Romney and Perry are both accomplished men who have significant things to contribute to the national debate. Either would have been a significantly better President than Obama. But I am not sure either has what it takes to win in 2016.

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