Romney's Third Time Charm?
As they say, the third time is a charm. That may be the contemplation facing the Republicans and Mitt Romney as we near the next presidential election. Polls have consistently shown Romney ahead of other potential nominees for 2016. A more important poll result puts Romney ahead of all other potential GOP nominees in a face-off against Hillary Clinton. Second only to Romney against Clinton is Rand Paul.
There has been talk of the "two GOPs", or two sides of one party; one for the establishment's status quo and one for a new libertarian approach. In April, I wrote of an epic GOP battle between Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, two anti-establishment candidates. That was before there was serious talk of Mitt Romney making a comeback. If Mitt Romney makes the choice to enter the Republican primaries for a third attempt at the White House, it would change everything. At this point in time, Mitt Romney is the only candidate that could revive the GOP establishment.
Ted Cruz represents the social conservative wing of the anti-establishment wing. Rand Paul represents the libertarian, socially liberal wing of the anti-establishment wing. Mitt Romney would represent the same centrist establishment as John McCain, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Mitt Romney would try to accomplish what the GOP has been trying to accomplish for the past two elections against Obama. He would try to appeal to independents and moderate Democrats. Since this strategy has failed twice, nominating Mitt Romney would mean attempting this strategy again and possibly failing for a third consecutive time.
Hillary Clinton will be an entirely different candidate than Barack Obama. Whether Mitt Romney could defeat her depends on how well he can convince independents that he isn't George W. Bush or John McCain. Whether Hillary will beat Romney depends largely on whether she can convince Democrats that she isn't Barack Obama. Two troubled legacies will be in battle. This would not be the case if Rand Paul or Ted Cruz were to win the nomination.
With a Rand Paul nomination, Hillary would spend a lot of her campaign trying to distance herself from the Obama administration, while Rand Paul would have the luxury of easily convincing social liberals that his libertarian views pose no threat to them. To make it easier, Paul would have no former Republicans to distance himself from. Rand Paul could appeal to young voters as a fresh new candidate who openly opposed members of his own party on social and foreign policy issues. Unlike Clinton, Paul would have very little baggage left behind from past policies or presidents.
It might be fair to say that Mitt Romney would have some of the same luxuries, but not as fair to say that he could convince independents that he doesn't stand for the old Republican views on social and foreign affairs that have turned youthful voters away in the past.
The more positive side of a third Romney run would be his intellect. Not only has Mitt Romney been a kind of prophet when it comes to foreign affairs (when we look back at his 2012 debate predictions about Russia and Iraq), he expresses a greater familiarity and aptitude for international politics than Rand Paul. As the threat of the Islamic State rises, Romney's understanding of geopolitics could prove more appealing to voters.
Foreign policy could be the paradox facing the Republicans in 2016. For Romney or Paul, the rise of Islamic extremism could alter the presidential race dramatically. For Clinton, an experienced Secretary Of State and First Lady, it could be what makes voters put more faith in her than Rand Paul. In the case of Islamic extremism becoming a more serious fear in the minds of Americans, nominating Romney may be a better option for the GOP.
If somehow Islamic extremism and terrorism don't stoke new fears in America, Rand Paul and his isolationist policies may become winning policies against Clinton's old fashioned, interventionist views.
A Ted Cruz nomination creates an entirely new battle with an entirely different dynamic.
A Ted Cruz nomination would almost immediately secure a Hillary win. That's not something most social conservatives or Republicans want to hear, but it's the truth. Even though Mr. Cruz is a respectable public speaker, his views on abortion, marriage and healthcare might be the nail in the coffin for Republicans... that is, if they plan on winning the youth vote. Ted Cruz offers much of the same as Rand Paul on fiscal and economic issues, but his social views will be what turn moderates away and send them in Clinton's direction. Unless a severe scandal (besides Benghazi) tarnishes Hillary, Ted Cruz has no chance of defeating her.
As for Hillary Clinton, she will almost certainly run for the Democratic nomination because the Democrats need her. Without her, the Democratic primaries would become a free-for-all battle to the death among lesser known and fringe candidates. Hillary Clinton's absence guarantees that a Republican will occupy the White House by 2017. The most unfortunate reality for Democrats is that there are more Republicans with growing popularity than Democrats, making the Republican primaries the place to be in 2016. Journalists and pundits of all stripes will be watching the GOP primaries like hawks.
So far, to most Republicans, Mitt Romney is the safe choice. He's tenured as a Governor, a campaigner, and a foreign policy teacher. A Romney/Clinton match-up in 2016 begins to sound less far-fetched each day. Without word yet from the Romney camp, media will continue to play up the showdown and the possibility of a Romney run, if not for ratings than to distort the truth and make the Republicans look like the Democrats: desperate and clinging to the heels of one, single popular candidate. We should consider that the most likely reason for Romney becoming a media doll.