If you ask the tea party/conservative right, it’s clear where the fault lies for the 2012 presidential election results. Mitt Romney.
Romney, the GOP nominee, ran a respectable race against President Obama, losing by five million votes out of 126 million cast — 51-47%. But, aside from North Carolina, Romney lost every swing state thought to be up for grabs (or at least competitive) in the election: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and Nevada. Perhaps a fairly close contest when it came to popular vote, but not in the electoral college: Obama 332, Romney 206.
To the increasingly assertive tea party, his candidacy was everything that was wrong with the Republican establishment. A blog post on Redstate.com shortly after the election spelled it out:
“The fact of the matter is that had a strong Republican been nominated and had he run a good campaign, the GOP would have gotten about 350 electoral votes. Instead, the Romney team decided to run a campaign that made a point to reject a number of traditionally Republican voters. Romney did very poorly with the religious right and values voters. He did very poorly in terms of being viewed as presidential. He was never someone folks could trust. He was a horrible candidate, and appears largely separated from reality.”
But it wasn’t just the right-wing universe that felt he was the wrong candidate to begin with. With unemployment at high levels, one would think that the Republican nominee would have been in a position to tell Americans how he or she would improve their lives. The problem is that Romney didn’t often connect with the voters he needed to reach. He was effectively portrayed as an “out of touch/rich guy” by the Obama campaign, and that narrative stuck. Of course, talking about not having to worry about the “entitled” 47% of the country didn’t help either.
And so, given the fact that Romney has pretty much been shunted aside as “old news” since 2012, it was interesting to see how often his name popped up as a potential 2016 contender last weekend at a retreat he organized in Park City, Utah. Sounding more like a kingmaker than a has-been, Romney talked about the importance of uniting the GOP in advance of their expected upcoming battle with Hillary Clinton. And, judging by Philip Rucker’s piece in the Washington Post, the main theme that emerged from the summit was: Mitt Romney needs to run again.
I had to read it twice to make sure what I was seeing.
But there it was. Ex-Florida congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough urged attendees “to begin a ‘Draft Romney’ movement in 2016.” Harold Hamm, a top Romney fundraiser in 2012, said, “Everybody would encourage him to consider it again.” Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Romney “confidant,” said, “I’d be for it, but it’s not my decision.” Even a Democrat, ex-Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, said of Romney, “He would be a giant in a field of midgets.”
It all makes sense, writes Rucker: “The heightened interest in Romney … speaks volumes about their anxiety at the disarray in the Republican Party. There is no clear 2016 front-runner, and there is deep doubt about the two leading establishment favorites [Chris Christie and Jeb Bush].”
For his part, Romney brought everyone back to earth. “I think people make a lot of compliments to make us all feel good, and it’s very nice and heartening to have people say such generous things,” he said. “But I am not running, and they know it.”
Of that there is no doubt. He is not running.
But we have seen before where a defeated party, torn about its identity and uncertain of its next course, wistfully talks about its last unsuccessful nominee. And sometimes, these former nominees decide they’d like to try again.
Nobody since Adlai Stevenson has won the nomination in back-to-back presidential contests (1952 and 1956). But others have tried. Here’s the list of defeated presidential nominees going back to 1896 who tried for the nomination four years later.
1896: William Jennings Bryan (won Dem nomination, lost to William McKinley). Ran again in 1900, won nomination again, lost to McKinley again. Bryan sat out 1904 but was the Democratic nominee once more, in 1908, when he lost to William Howard Taft.
1928: Al Smith (won Dem nomination, lost to Herbert Hoover). Ran again in 1932, losing the nomination to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
1944: Thomas Dewey (won GOP nomination, lost to FDR). Ran again in 1948 and won the nomination again but lost to Harry Truman.
1952: Adlai Stevenson (won Dem nomination, lost to Dwight Eisenhower). Ran again in 1956, won nomination again, lost to Ike again. Also sought nomination in 1960 but lost to John F. Kennedy.
1968: Hubert Humphrey (won Dem nomination, lost to Richard Nixon). Ran again in 1972, losing the nomination to George McGovern.
NOTE: Richard Nixon, the defeated Republican nominee in 1960, ran again (and won) eight years later. George McGovern, the losing Democratic candidate in 1972, waited 12 years before trying again; he lost the 1984 nomination to Walter Mondale.