With growing speculation about whether he will run again for president, Mitt Romney returned to Massachusetts Thursday to co-host a fundraiser for Charlie Baker, the GOP candidate for governor.
The former governor and two-time presidential candidate has said repeatedly he won’t run again, but his friends have been urging him to run, buoyed by an Iowa poll showing Romney besting Hillary Clinton, 44 to 43 percent. One might wonder who would find that poll most encouraging — Mitt, pondering whether to run, or Hillary, pondering who she’d like to run against.
As much as Romney would like to be president, I don’t think he will run. Here are key reasons:
His family is strongly opposed to it. His wife, Ann, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “Not only Mitt and I are done, but the kids are done. Done. Done. Done.” Asked if she could change her mind -- a question one expects a reporter to ask when told, “Done, done. done.” -- she said she hasn’t yet “been pushed to that point mentally.” Perhaps I read too much between the words “done, done, done,” but I’m thinking Ann and the kids don’t want him to run again.
If he lost again, he’d be a joke. There have been various perennial candidates for the presidency -- politicians who were taken seriously the first and second time, but after losing three or more times they became punch lines, their names invoked only as a lesson to other would-be losers.
He’s not getting any younger. Romney is 67, but looks great. While Hillary Clinton also turns 67 shortly, and while other presidential prospects are also at retirement age, they haven’t had to campaign as relentlessly for so many years. It’s not like the old days when McKinley could campaign from his front porch while his running mate, New York Gov. Teddy Roosevelt, did the hard work of traveling nationwide by train, orating loudly to crowds at every stop. No, today’s presidential candidate is expected to campaign strenuously, to use a favorite word of TR’s. Surely, Romney would prefer a less stressful lifestyle.
Today’s issues aren't as favorable for him. Granted, President Obama is much less popular now, and many swing voters wish they’d voted for Romney instead. But Romney’s business expertise doesn't seem as compelling now that unemployment has fallen. Foreign policy issues — including the Ebola outbreak — are more important.
The GOP nomination wouldn't be a lock. If Romney didn't have to go through another long battle to win his party’s nod, maybe he could convince his family that the campaign wouldn't be so cruel, unusual and punishing. But this time his GOP rivals could be a lot tougher. Last time his opponents self-imploded (Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich) or never caught fire (Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman). But this time, more viable candidates are expected to run.
Rand Paul has broader appeal than his father did. Chris Christy has a bigger moderate base than Huntsman or Pawlenty had. Jeb Bush could take from Romney a huge piece of fundraising from the establishment wing. Romney’s former running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, would be hard for Romneyites to attack; after all, he picked him to be a possible successor. Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, both relatively young, could make Romney seem stale. Even 2012 candidates who might run again — Rick Santorum and Rick Perry — are more seasoned and could press Romney more effectively from the right. Altogether, the GOP contest must not seem inviting to Romney. He’d likely be on the defensive more than on offense.
He’d lose some of his statesman status. Romney realizes he is relatively popular, basking in the non-glow of Obama’s polls. He must enjoy being praised as a leader who “should have been” president. That’s as close as presidential losers usually get to rehabilitating their reputations, even if it’s not exactly redemption. But more than that, given Romney’s wealth, connections and ambition, he could follow in the footsteps of former presidents who spent their retirement years taking on new challenges outside of politics. Romney knows how satisfying that can be from his success in saving the 2002 Winter Olympics.
As much as he enjoys being the beloved patriarch in his family, and elder statesman in his party, Mitt Romney might imagine starting a new organization or promoting a new cause. In building his legacy, he’s not done, done, done.
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.