The only people excited about Mitt Romney running for president in 2016 are excited because they think he will fail.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that the Netflix star and former Republican presidential nominee told a “senior Republican” that he “almost certainly will” launch a third presidential bid. Among Romney’s fellow GOP compatriots, this news engendered a collective gulp.
Of course, it’s possible that lots of Republicans are thrilled about potentially renominating the gloriously-coiffed former Massachusetts governor. But those people—at least thus far—have kept pretty darn mum.
As a quick preface, there are exceptions. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, seemed genuinely pleased about a third Romney bid; the Washington Post reported that he’s already promised to back Romney if he formally enters the race. And Sen. Orrin Hatch, also of Utah, told ABC that he’d like “very badly” to see Romney run again and that he thinks he would win if he did.
But beyond the Beehive State, Republican reactions were one collective cringe. The Hill compiled responses from top Congressional Republicans, and the results aren’t pretty.
Sen. John Hoeven, who supported Romney in 2012? “I’m going to reserve judgment.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa icon: “I haven’t had a conversation with Mitt Romney since the last time he was in Iowa in 2012, so I wouldn’t know his motivations.”
Sen. Rob Portman, Romney’s debate sparring partner: “Who?”
House Speaker John Boehner helpfully pointed out that “there will be a lot of candidates.” Former megadonor Randy Kendrick told the Daily Caller that he “will work early and tirelessly now to make sure he is not our nominee again.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board called his political profile “protean” and charged that his 2012 team was “notable for its mediocrities.” And, most tellingly, a guy who got a Romney “R” face tattoo told BuzzFeed he won’t be backing him this time around.
So that covers all the bases. Donors, members of Congress, RINO #surrendercaucus editorial boards, people with poor judgment—they all come together to share some nose-wrinkling over the possibility of a third Romney bid.
That said, there’s one major Republican constituency that’s tickled pink about Romney 2016: grassroots conservatives who hope he’ll siphon fundraising dollars away from fellow Establishment-friendly contenders like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
Steve Deace, an influential Iowa conservative radio host, said he’s overjoyed about Romney’s plans. He said he expects Romney and Bush to tear into each other. And given their tetchy personal history, which the Washington Post detailed here, it could theoretically get ugly.
“This is going to be corporatist on corporatist crime,” Deace said. “And whenever corporatist blood gets spilled, we all win.”
“[Romney’s] going to provide a lot of free opposition research for conservatives out there,” Deace added. “It’s the best of both worlds. He will go nowhere.”
“A three-way battle for the soul of the [establishment] GOP? For its money, consultants, and votes?” he wrote. “Good news, we think.”
Brent Bozell of ForAmerica, a conservative group that was an early backer of Eric Cantor’s successful primary challenger, falls in the same camp.
“If you recall the Lurch character from the Adams family who’d just groan all the time, that’s how I feel,” he said. “It’s like Groundhog Day. It’s 6 a.m.”
He sees the same upside as others, though. Romney, Bush, and Christie will all compete for backing from the Chamber of Commerce and other big-business interests, he argued. In the process they’ll damage whomever finally emerges as moderate Republicans’ favorite, forced to invest their finite resources in their own circular firing squad instead of in targeting grassroots favorites like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
Republican presidential primary candidates usually focus on courting the conservative movement voters who show up in outsize numbers on primary day. They tack to the right, and then the nominee inevitably tacks back to the middle. But Bush, Christie, and Romney share a similar base: moderate, business-oriented Republicans who may find issues like Common Core and immigration less galvanizing than your typical Tea Partier does. Conservatives hope it will be tough for these candidates to simultaneously battle for the Chamber’s backing and for the support of red-meat Iowa caucus-goers. So there’s an element of schadenfreude in their glee.
But putting aside the delight of those vultures, one thing’s for sure: Romney 2016 has a major happiness gap.