In recent days Republican Party donors, strategists, state chairman, and so forth have awoken to the fact that Mitt Romney is really very serious about running for president again. Many are surprised – they believed his long-standing demurrals of interest.
Party actors generally spoke well of Mr. Romney when it seemed he would settle into the status of a party elder. Now that he’s sprung back on stage many are grumbling that a Romney revival may not be a good idea.
“If Mitt Romney is the answer, what is the question?” said the reliably conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page Wednesday.
The grumbling appears to come from at least two sources of opposition within the party.
One faction is composed of big donors and others who have already begun to coalesce about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as a possible choice for the party establishment. Some of these party insides backed Romney in the past but grew weary at his inability to connect with voters and now see Mr. Bush as a fresher face with better communication skills.
A New York Times story Wednesday on the Romney reaction notably included remarks from two GOP money men who called a reporter back to clarify that they have Bush ties and aren’t returning to the Romney camp for 2016.
A second group is comprised of conservatives who continue to distrust Romney’s right-leaning bona fides. And by “conservatives," we mean establishment and congressional figures as well as the tea party-oriented right wing.
As in 2012, these folks suspect Romney remains a closet moderate. In particular, they object to comments from Romney supporters that he’ll run to Bush’s right. They grumble that ideological position isn’t a choice the candidate makes, like a choice of clothing. It’s a result of past positions taken by a politician who, yes, in the past effectively supported abortion rights and signed an Obamacare-like health bill into law in Massachusetts.
“Romney’s assessment of the GOP nomination marketplace has revealed that there is a demand for an establishment candidate to the right of Bush, so he thinks he can manufacture a product with Romney 3.0 that will meet that market demand. Never mind Romney’s actual record or convictions,” writes right-leaning Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner.
All this represents more than just free-range criticism. As we’ve written, the 2016 presidential race is in the crucial invisible primary stage where hopefuls vie for the support of important party figures. The griping signals that Romney may face a more difficult environment in 2016 than he hoped.
Some of the faithful are returning to his side. In New Hampshire, State Senate majority leader Jeb Bradley and 2012 top advisers Thomas Rath and Jim Merrill have said they will again support Romney, according to NBC News.
But many of Romney’s former GOP allies in Washington aren’t racing to sign up for a repeat performance. Sen. John McCain of Arizona spoke warmly of Romney this week but avoided the question of whether he’d again support the party’s 2012 nominee. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine have basically taken the same position.
“Complicating Romney’s bid for support this time around: a deep field of primary alternatives and a reluctance – even among former supporters – to give another try to a candidate who lost the last time around,” writes National Journal’s Lauren Fox.
[Editor's Note: The original summary misidentified the number of times Romney ran for president.]