Romney speech: Still trying to win 2012?

Mitt Romney's speech in Mississippi Wednesday night was full of the expected swipes at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. But he may have a harder time winning over the GOP electorate this time.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the student body and guests at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., Wednesday. Mr. Romney joked about his time as a candidate and addressed a number of world issues including terrorism, the world economy, 'the need for strong American leadership,' and job creation.

Is Mitt Romney fighting the wrong political war?

That question is apropos because the 2012 GOP presidential nominee gave a substance-heavy speech in Mississippi Wednesday night that laid out themes and approaches for a Romney re-redux. Thus the US political world has some hard data on which to rely as it mulls Mitt’s surprising decision to (probably) launch a third try for the presidency.

The speech showed “a hunger to step back into the ring," writes Washington Post political reporter Philip Rucker. As Romney aides hinted beforehand, it was full of direct swipes at Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Romney questioned Ms. Clinton’s economic worldview, wondering whether she could provide opportunity for all “if she doesn’t know where all the jobs come from in the first place.” He described the former secretary of State as “timid” in foreign policy, wrong about Russia, wrong about the Middle East, and wrong about the chaos facing Libya and other North African nations.

“China grows more assertive and builds a navy that will be larger than ours in five years,” said Romney. “We shrink our nuclear capabilities as Russia upgrades theirs.”

During his appearance, Romney said that the Republican Party needs to improve its outreach to minorities. And the rich businessman, known in 2012 for his comments dismissing the “47 percent” of lower-income voters, stressed the need to lift needy Americans out of poverty.

“Failed liberal policies” haven’t helped the poorest in the nation, Romney said.

“It’s finally time to apply conservative politics that improve America’s education system, promote family formation, and create good-paying jobs,” Romney said.

This all meshes with what Romney aides say will be the focus of Romney 2016. He’ll run on a platform of foreign policy competence, poverty eradication, and economic competence. He’ll talk about his Mormon roots and try to let his real personality shine.

These are all things he was urged to do when he faced Barack Obama in 2012. Pundits said he needed to show more empathy for the downtrodden and appear less robotic in person. Lessons learned, apparently.

“The new Mitt brand: ‘Not the guy obsessing about 2012, well just a little,’ " tweeted right-leaning Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin on Thursday.

The problem, of course, is that it is four years on, and Romney needs to win another primary campaign before he can face off in the general election. It’s not at all clear that focusing on poverty and Mormonism will win over the GOP electorate this time.

There’s a military cliché that generals always prepare to fight the last war. Perhaps Romney’s preparing to re-fight the 2012 vote.

This time he’s facing a stronger primary field. An open presidential election, as opposed to an incumbent reelection, usually draws stronger candidates, and 2016 seems no exception. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, et al. will fight Romney for the designation of the electable GOP establishment choice. Conservatives such as Ted Cruz will box him out of the rightward part of the candidate spectrum.

His problem with the GOP electorate isn’t that he’s not compassionate enough. It’s that many believe he’s a closet Massachusetts moderate who’ll support Obamacare if he’s elected.

“What effect will a new and improved heartwarmingly ‘real’ Romney 3.0 have on the primaries?” wrote the right-leaning Allahpundit at Hot Air earlier this week. “GOPers aren’t going to reject him because they think he’s a jerk, they’re going to reject him because he’s an aging two-time loser up against a field of more talented politicians.”

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