[dropcap]M[/dropcap]itt Romney was saying the other day that he hates to be called a flip-flopper. And yet. A few weeks ago, he shocked the Republican world by announcing was nearly all the way back and now — stunningly — he has announced that he’s all the way gone. No one is quite sure what happened or how it could have happened so quickly, only that it did.
There are so many Republicans in the 2016 race that it’s hard to think that any of them would be missed, even the one leading the early polls. It is true, though, that the GOP had nearly every slot covered. And now they’ve lost the two-time-loser, 47-percenter, elevator-in-the-garage, now-I’m-going-to-campaign-for-the-poor slot in the GOP lineup.
It was to be the new Mitt, the authentic Mitt, the Mitt who makes jokes about being a rich guy, the Mitt ready to talk about his religion, the Mitt maybe still not ready to talk about the dog tied to the top of the car.
He turned out to be the Mitt who looked slightly ridiculous assailing Obama for not caring enough about income inequality or campaigning on his willingness to embrace the 47 percent of whom he had once said: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
But he went out as the Mitt ready to pass the baton — just so long as it wasn’t being passed to Jeb Bush.
You can read between the lines yourself when Romney said that “one of our next generation of Republican leaders … may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democratic nominee.”
Bush is not in the next generation. Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, just to name a few who might be acceptable to Romney, are. On Friday morning, there were rumors that Romney would meet with Christie that night. How much would a Romney endorsement — or at least a hug — mean for the New Jersey governor?
Did Romney think about getting in the race simply to stop Bush? That doesn’t seem likely. But it had to be part of the calculus that he didn’t think Bush could beat Hillary Clinton — and that someone younger than Romney and Bush (or Rick Perry or Mike Huckabee), meaning the remaining serious candidates, would be better placed in the fresh-face race against Clinton.
On the other hand, Romney’s departure has to help Bush, particularly with big-money establishment Republicans whose loyalty might have been split between the two.
And it helps everyone else. In his short return, Romney sucked up a lot of oxygen, and the Bush-Romney competition set a narrative that didn’t seem to include, say, Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. The Romney camp had leaked a poll showing him leading in all the early states, but that rivals who did well included Rubio and … Ben Carson.
Is this the year of the new Republican? No one really knows. The only thing you can safely predict about this race is that you shouldn’t listen to anyone prepared to make a prediction. (I mean, Lindsey Graham is getting in, presumably as a John “Get Out of Here, You Lowlife Scum” McCain surrogate.
Still, Romney went out claiming that he could have won if he had truly entered the race, which doesn’t quite explain why he dropped out. You will remember that Romney was the last person — or maybe the last besides Karl Rove — who thought he had lost in 2012. According to reports from Republican insiders, Romney’s advisers had been trying to convince him that he wasn’t going to win. This was, at last, a reality check. The public was telling him: Mitt, we knew ye too well.
And so, the Romney era, such as it was, is over. And now the Republican Party will have to struggle by with two dozen or so other candidates. I’m 47 percent sure they can get by.
[Photo by Austin Hufford.]