Conservatives have tried to send Mitt Romney a message in recent days that they don’t think the former Massachusetts governor is receiving: Don’t mistake the right’s desire to oust President Barack Obama in 2012 for love for their party’s old nominee.
Romney’s declaration to a group of about 30 donors last week in New York City that he is strongly considering a third presidential campaign in 2016 has drawn praise from many of his top supporters in previous bids – but also strong rebukes from the right, where there’s a sense that perhaps the former Massachusetts governor’s time has passed.
Some are openly negative about the possibility. “I am willing myself not to believe Romney is running again. That’s too stupid even for his set of advisers,” tweeted Erick Erickson, the proprietor of the influential conservative blog RedState.com.
Romney will take his first public shot at convincing the right that he deserves another chance on Friday night, when he speaks at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting near San Diego – just a few miles away from the site of the “car elevator” incident of 2012.
Here are five of the top arguments that conservatives have made in recent days against Romney in 2016:
1. There are a lot of good candidates – we don’t need a retread.
Just as Republicans groaned about the 2012 field, watching one Romney challenger rise and fall after another, many conservatives are excited about their options in 2016 – with young senators like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio exploring bids, as well as battle-tested governors such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie, social conservative darlings like Mike Huckabee and establishment favorites like Jeb Bush.
The feeling among some is that Romney had his chance, and blew it. “We need new energy. We need new blood. We need new ideas,” 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin told “Inside Edition.”
“I think people feel like we have an exciting group of accomplished and interesting Republicans,” conservative donor Randy Kendrick said in an email obtained by The Daily Caller. “And we don’t need to repeat 2012.”
In fact there were nearly two dozen Republican candidates who expressed interest or were rumored about hopping into the GOP pool of 2016ers all before Romney made a serious splash last week.
Another way of putting the issue, by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in The Week: “Healthy political parties realize that the cemeteries are full of indispensable men and rotate their troops.”
2. We always pick a moderate. It’s time for a true conservative.
Grassroots conservatives say they see 2016 – with Romney, Bush and Christie all competing for establishment support – as an opportunity to finally nominate one of their own. “Conservatives have here a rare opportunity to coalesce early around a serious challenger,” Leon Wolf wrote for RedState.com.
Both 2008 and 2012 started out as relatively wide open primary fields filled with conservative options, but were in both instances whittled down to establishment moderate candidates in Romney and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Conservative radio host Steve Deace told The Washington Post that the party’s right wing will need to rally around an alternative to establishment picks like Romney.
“Some conservatives think Romney is self-delusional, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back,” Deace said. “Are we going to split our vote again? It’s time for us to find someone and say, ‘This is our son with whom we are well pleased.’”
3. He already failed twice. What would change the third time around?
Romney has already tried to address this critique in conversations with top Republican donors and operatives, telling them he wants to run a campaign focused on alleviating poverty and saying he’d show much more personality – the quirky, loving grandfather who showed up in a post-election Netflix documentary but was nowhere to be found on the trail – if he ran again.
Romney was regularly labeled everything from boring and wooden to just plain awkward and too rich in a way that alienated voters – earning those labels after asking a group of young black voters during the 2008 campaign, “Who let the dogs out,” pointing out during his 2012 bid that his wife Ann Romney drives “a couple of Cadillacs” and being caught on film dismissing the 47% of the country who he said would vote for Obama because they “believe they are victims” and pay no income taxes.
The Wall Street Journal blasted that argument – that Romney can present a softer side of himself this time around – in a widely-read editorial this week. “The question the former Massachusetts Governor will have to answer is why he would be a better candidate than he was in 2012,” the newspaper wrote. “The answer is not obvious.”
4. The party is evolving and he’s in business’s pocket.
Republicans with libertarian leanings, like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who says the United States needs to intervene less in foreign affairs, have emerged as major contenders in the 2016 field. They’re a populist manifestation of the tea party’s desire for a government that’s simply less involved in Americans’ lives.
Romney’s backers tout his more hawkish stances on foreign policy, such as his insistence that Obama hadn’t been tough enough with Russian President Vladimir Putin – a claim Romney believes has proven accurate after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. But to libertarians like Paul supporters, that approach won’t carry much appeal.
The U.S. economy has improved in recent months and years, and with Obama off the ticket, conservatives won’t be looking for a candidate whose biggest strength is prosecuting Obama’s handling of the country’s fiscal condition. Some conservatives are even rebelling against the party’s orthodoxy on issues like free trade and tax breaks for corporations.
“Come the next leap year and the prospect of an open seat behind the Resolute Desk, Americans won’t much care about waging the last war, or going into battle with last century’s commanders. Fair or not, the nation will be interested in fresh voices promoting forward-looking agendas,” conservative blogger Tom Jackson wrote for The Tampa Tribune.
5. If he couldn’t beat Obama, he won’t beat Hillary.
Romney blasted Obama in the wake of the 2012 election for handing “gifts” to important chunks of the electorate that accounted for his victory – women, Latinos, African-Americans and more. But that Democratic constituency isn’t going away. And in some ways it could be more potent if Clinton remains popular.
Sure, Romney can make the argument that he was right and Obama was wrong about a number of foreign policy topics, like Russia. But Clinton hasn’t been a member of Obama’s second-term administration.
Romney has in recent days been in contact with many of his former staffers as news reports suggest he’d get much of the old team back together for 2016. But that’s a team that has also been embarrassed since the election by revelations such as, it took 22 staffers to sign off on a single Romney tweet.
“If he cannot be decisive and quick about getting into the race, how is he going to be decisive and fleet-footed enough to run a successful race this time around?” blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post. “… In 2012, he not only put together an unwieldy and incompetent campaign, but he also dug his own grave again and again with comments that allowed the Democrats to portray him as out of touch and unfeeling.”