It’s all over the news today – sort of a Friday afternoon news dump, but definitely fodder for the Sunday talk shows: 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney said he was taking a pass on the 2016 race.
In their coverage, Fox News cited a poll from earlier this week that showed the race without Romney narrowly favored Jeb Bush, who had 15% of the vote in a wide open field. (Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul were at 13% apiece, Ben Carson was at 10%, and Scott Walker at 9%.)
Romney was the leader in many polls at this early date, with the caveat that polls this far out are heavily based on name recognition. But Mitt’s withdrawal, coupled with the decision earlier this month by his running mate Paul Ryan to stay in the House, means there’s no real odds-on favorite based on previous runs, unless voters decide Sarah Palin is not past her expiration date.
The conventional wisdom is that the money and advisers who would have worked on the Romney campaign will gravitate toward Jeb Bush and not Chris Christie – the guy who fits the Northeastern governor mold that Romney carved out last time. It’s probably why this poll conducted by Fox News worked out as it did. But the fact that 85% of the voters don’t support Jeb Bush and three times as many of those polled prefer one of the next four candidates down means that the GOP electorate isn’t nearly as sold on the younger Bush as Democrats are sold on the “better half” of the Clintons. To me, those who sat out the 2012 election because they weren’t excited about Mitt Romney are going to make it two in a row if Jeb Bush is the GOP standard-bearer.
If 2016 is another Bush-Clinton match 24 years later (with different players) my prediction is that we will see a record low turnout. I also think honest historians a century hence will see this run of Presidents from Bush 41 through Obama as the weakest since the group from William Henry Harrison through James Buchanan – a two-decade period where the United States couldn’t resolve the slavery issue and fought a war with Mexico, although they won. Granted, two of the seven presidents during that era died in office, but none of them served more than a single term in a restless time in our history. In the modern era, we have seen government grow and become more lawless, fought a pair of unpopular wars abroad, and watched the middle class struggle in a tumultuous economy. It’s not certain whether Mitt Romney would have turned that tide, but he didn’t win in 2012 and history isn’t very kind to nominees who lose a general election yet run again the next time.
The 2016 election really doesn’t have a parallel in the recent past. 2012 was a lot like 1996 in that they both pitted incumbent Democrats whose party was creamed in the most recent midterm election prior to those years (2010 and 1994.) But both Democrats survived when the GOP put up “establishment” moderate candidates in Mitt Romney and Bob Dole.
We need a path to victory in 2016, and Mitt Romney probably sensed he wasn’t the guy. It would take a lot to convince me Jeb Bush would be that person, too.