Romney resurfaces as party elder, because who else is there?

     (AP Photo, file)

    (AP Photo, file)

    All hail the comeback kid! Mitt Romney is back in heavy circulation.

    He has endorsed three Republican candidates during the past week (and at least 16 this year), he’s raising money for the party’s Senate candidates in New Hampshire and Virginia, he’s planning a June summit where prospective ’16 presidential hopefuls can schmooze with his deep-pocket donors, and, all told, he’s emerging (in the words of one report) “as one of the Republican party’s most coveted stars.”

    A coveted star…Not bad for a guy who lost 11 of 12 presidential swing states just 17 months ago, a guy so clueless and cocooned that he actually believed he was destined for the White House despite the autumn poll consensus that he was destined to lose. And hey, hitting the trail is a lot more fun than riding his car elevator or counting his money.

    And who else do the Republicans have, anyway? Mitt wins the party elder role partly by default. The senior George Bush, who has largely eschewed political activism since being ousted in 1992, is now too infirm to even parachute out of planes anymore. The junior George Bush would rather paint puppies than play politics and thus remind people of his two-war, red-ink, recession-nurturing presidency. Then there’s Dick Cheney, best known as W’s Mini-Me…’nuff said.

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    That’s one vacuum. Here’s another:

    The GOP has no idea where it’s going – neoconservatives and libertarians and tea-partyers and center-right country clubbers and Christian moralists are pushing and pulling the party every which way – and no single politician has sufficient clout to knock heads together and chart a new course. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee…they all have niche brands and lots of intraparty skeptics. None of them can presume to speak for the party. And heck, even GOP chairman Reince Priebus barely speaks for the party.

    Actually, Romney can’t presume to speak for the party, either. That’s the reality, despite all the buzz about his reemergence. He’s still loathed by the tea-partyers, who view him as a moderate wimp establishment sellout. Earlier this week on CNN, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips offered this ringing testimonial:

    “Is the GOP stuck on stupid? Why does the Republican party listen to losers? The Republican party has listened to the Romney wing of the party, and what has the result been? The GOP has lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections. If the GOP listens to Romney, it will be six out of seven…Let him spend time with his wife, his kids and grandkids, but stay the hell out of the Republican party.” Ouch.

    (Actually, if the GOP were to follow Judson’s advice in ’16, and nominate someone who mirrors the tea party – which, according to Gallup, commands the allegiance of only 22 percent of the electorate – we can rest assured that the Republicans will lose the popular vote for the sixth time out of seven. And flunk the Electoral College yet again. But I digress.)

    Indeed, Romney can’t heal party fissures, precisely because he’s already taking sides. Last week, he waded into a Republican primary in Idaho, endorsing congressman Mike Simpson in his race against a tea-party challenger. He even made a commercial for Simpson, calling him “the conservative choice for Congress…You can take it from me.” Mitt’s seal of approval still has traction in a state like Idaho.

    A Romney friend says that Mitt wants to be the “anti-Jim DeMint,” a reference to the ex-senator whose new mission in life is to fund insurgent right-wing candidates and thus push the GOP further rightward. And another ally, ex-Minnesota senator Norman Coleman, is even more candid, telling The Washington Post: “He’s looking for pragmatic conservatives. It’s not so much about scoring political points with every segment of the party, but about finding people who, like him, understand the need for governing.”

    Well. If Romney only wants Republicans who “understand the need for governing,” that should shrink his pool of prospects.

    Problem is, some establishment incumbents who do understand the need for governing don’t want Romney around. Sen. Lindsey Graham is fighting a tea-party challenger in South Carolina, but he hasn’t asked Romney for help. Sen. Thad Corcoran is fighting a tea-party challenger in Mississippi, but he hasn’t asked Romney for help. That’s no surprise, because Romney has never been popular in the South (insufficiently conservative, plus his religion). But what explains the recent embarrassment up in Ohio?

    Kasich, the incumbent center-right governor, is running for re-election this year. On paper, he and Romney should be sympatico. But apparently Romney is still so radioactive that Kasich’s team scrubbed a 2012 Romney placard from a photo on the Kasich campaign website.  Check out the before and after shots.

    Ah yes, Ohio – where Romney, on his way to losing the swing state, uttered and re-uttered one of his most egregious 2012 lies. That’s where he declared, in an ad and on the stump, that Chrysler was moving its big Ohio jeep-manufacturing plant  to China (and that, naturally, it was President Obama’s fault). Truth was, the plant wasn’t going anywhere – and now we learn in 2014 that the Ohio plant, in response to robust jeep demand, is adding 1000 new part-time workers.

    Hmm. Maybe Romney is better off staying behind the scenes, working the money network for his favored candidates. In the public role of party elder, the “coveted star” has too much tarnish.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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