Last week Mitt Romney self-deported from the Republican presidential nomination contest. His fund raising prowess remained unquestioned and as he stated in his announcement, he was ahead in the polls nationally and in the first four voting states. We know that Romney has long hungered and still does yearn for the presidency. So what happened?
According to political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller, it isn’t just polls and money but support of the party elites that controls the nomination. Party leaders want someone acceptable to their interests and who can win. Endorsements, interests, and party leaders play the most important role in the process. They make this case in The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform.
According to a recent post at the Washington Post hosted political science blog themonkeycage by Professor Karol, What Mitt Romney’s withdrawal says about parties and presidential nominations it was the tepid response of the party elites that brought about Romney’s departure. The New York Times had reported low enthusiasm for another Romney bid, and the Wall Street Journal excoriated him.
Romney’s announcement pointedly made the case that his departure was some sort of selfless move to allow fresher voices in the party to arise, but it was widely seen as a shot at Jeb Bush, who had outmaneuvered Romney for establishment support. This was an unforced error by Romney. He simply let Bush get far out in front of him and when he decided that 2016 might finally be his moment, his time had slipped away.
Romney has certainly had his successes in life – saving the Salt Lake City Olympics, business, Romneycare – but the case for him nationally was never very compelling. Or rather, the cases, since he never adhered for very long to any particular stance, always choosing to “lead” in whatever direction he thought might deliver himself into the Oval Office. Romney’s devoted acolytes’ description of him as “patriotic” never quite squared with the fellow who slipped away from military service during Vietnam and maintained a Swiss bank account in later life. His willingness to trash Massachusetts even as he served as governor in a desperate attempt to appeal to his party’s national fringe was treacherous.
Romney avoided the Shermanesque statement in his announcement, leaving it open that he might serve if the nation wakes up and begs him. Fortunately, that won’t happen. When the Founders conceived of the presidential office, they believed and hoped that men of “continental character” would come forward. But Madison recognized in Federalist 10 that “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” The only thing Mitt Romney really ever believed in was Mitt Romney. He’s exactly the sort of person we should be thankful will never become president.