The Wall Street Journal editorial page ran a compelling piece yesterday entitled Romney Recycled in which it laid out all the reasons a third Romney campaign may not be a very good idea. It was not stating that Romney would be a bad President; it was making the case that Romney would be a bad candidate. I believe most objective followers of the political world would be forced to agree with its conclusions.
Columnist David Bahnsen lays out reasons Mitt Romney should not run in 2016.
I believe the country made a mistake of incalculable proportions when it elected Barack Obama to a second term over Mitt Romney in 2012. I further believe despite the rather unfounded and dubious thinking of many of my conservative brethren that he would have been a great, not just good, President. The context of my sentiments in this article are not driven by a dislike of Mitt Romney the man, whom I hold in very high regard as a family man and businessman, or a belief that he would be a weak-kneed middle-of-the-road, unprincipled moderate of a President. I don’t believe he would have been. But it is a waste of energy to make the case for what it is both an unprovable thesis and a non-falsifiable one now. He was not elected, and besides, I’ve learned that there is a brand of folks on the right (some well-meaning, many not) for whom logic and reasoned discourse are as foreign as maybe Hayek and Kirk would be for Gov. Romney.
So with that backdrop I do still feel the need to echo what the WSJ laid out yesterday. I simply do not believe an additional effort by Gov. Romney will end well. And I believe that for no other reason than his flaws as a candidate, not fears of flaws as an actual President.
It is important to note that Gov. Romney essentially has a 20% LIFETIME success rate in elections. His 1994 loss to Ted Kennedy for Senate is rather forgivable. His 2002 gubernatorial win is the only reason any of us have heard of Mitt Romney, and that was about as fertile of a year for Republican candidates as 2014 was. But Romney chose not to run for re-election in 2006 because he was going to lose by 20 points. That is incontestable. And then we know about his 2008 and 2012 Presidential losses. I realize most people elected President have at one time or another in their political careers suffered a painful loss (Bill Clinton had one, Reagan had a couple, Nixon obviously had a couple, etc.), but in those high profile cases a loss (or two) is up against a plethora of wins that far outweigh the losses. A candidate who has only won one race he has ever been in has a big hurdle to get over in defending their viability as a candidate. It is not unfair for an objective political enthusiast, one who actually likes Romney as I do, to simply point out that maybe, just maybe, there is some reason this candidate struggles to close the deal with voters.
But a past win-loss record of 1-4 notwithstanding, there is a more fundamental reason I believe Gov. Romney would be wise to re-think this decision. The GOP faces a race in 2016 that one way or the other is going to delve into issues of class. The far left and neo-Marxian wing of the democratic party led by gifted orators but Che Guevara type ideologues like Elizabeth Warren are going to make this a more populist election than we have seen in our country’s history. The Dems will have a problem of their own to deal with in that because they will nominate the uber-wealthy and hyper-elitist Hilary Clinton as their nominee. It does not matter that Romney and the right have the far superior solutions for dealing with issues on class, poverty, education, and economic growth, and it certainly doesn’t matter that Elizabeth Warren and her ilk have absolutely nothing new to offer on the subject (eliminating ATM card fees is not a profound policy objective in case you were wondering, and further steepening the disgusting progressive tax code is not exactly new school thinking). This is politics, and for the GOP to nominate their wealthiest candidate is a bad idea – even a candidate who loves his family, and who has been beyond generous with his hard-earned wealth. Romney (or his 2012 handlers) allowed himself to be branded as a daddy warbucks Gordon Gecko symbol in the last race. It was wrong. It was unfair. But he will not be able to shake it. And that brings me to my final point.
It isn’t necessary this time around. The 2012 field was a walking Saturday Night Live skit. The idea that Herman Cain or Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum were ever going to be elected President is so silly it is embarrassing to think about as a devoted conservative enthusiast. Romney was a flawed candidate (for a handful of reasons) but clearly had the most gravitas and compelling case to make. And he couldn’t close. A lot of mistakes were made by his team, but he couldn’t close. In 2016, if it were a matter of Romney, Rand Paul, or Ted Cruz running, yes, I would think Mitt Romney want to consider entering the race. If it were just Chris Christie in the field, yes, I would hope Mitt Romney would consider running. Rand Paul is not going to be your President and if you don’t know that yet you soon will. Neither is Ted Cruz, though I believe that is because of mistakes Ted willingly made, not because of an intrinsic flaw or ideological kookiness. Christie is really, really not going to be your President. I’ll save character spaces in defending that assertion. However, a field with Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Mike Pence does not need the oft-failed candidate with the best name recognition to come in and save the day. We will see what happens with Jeb Bush. My own guess is that, as a candidate, he faces a lot of the same problems Mitt Romney would face with an even worse last name (though like Romney, I believe Jeb would actually make a fine President, imperfect as he may be). But Walker, Perry, Rubio, Jindal, Kasich, Pence is a field that does not need Romney to find someone outside the fringe of conspiracy lunacy (Paul), with inadequate credentials and gravitas (Bachman, Cain). Whether we like it or not, we need a real Republican who has not isolated his coalition to a narrow group that lacks the ability to win an election. The men I have identified all of strong points and maybe some flaws, but it is an exponentially better field than it was in 2012. Period.
I want Mitt Romney to play a role in American politics for the rest of his life. I want him to enjoy his beautiful family, and enjoy the fruits of his labors. If this thing shakes out in such a way that he ends up one-on-one with Hillary Clinton, he will have my support. But I echo the WSJ yesterday, that I simply believe the third time will not be a charm if he goes down this path.
David L. Bahnsen, CFP®, CIMA® is founder, team leader and principal for his private client group at the premier Wall Street firm of Morgan Stanley. Visit davidbahnsen.com