In the 1991 movie “Naked Gun 2 ½,” Police Lt. Frank Drebin drinks away his sorrows in a blues bar while sad music plays and the camera pans across a wall with pictures depicting the worst disasters in history: the Chicago fire . . . the Hindenburg . . . the Titanic . . . and Michael Dukakis.
If they did a remake today, they would replace Dukakis’s picture on the wall with one of another Massachusetts governor: Mitt Romney.
Talk of a Romney 2016 run is heating up. A USA Today poll shows Romney with a huge lead in Iowa, far ahead of 14 other potential GOP candidates. And after months of Shermanesque denials, Romney recently cracked the door open to another presidential bid, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt that “circumstances can change.”
To which I say: Nooooo!
Don’t get me wrong, I wish Mitt Romney were president right now. And apparently so do a majority of Americans. A recent poll found that if the 2012 election were held today, Romney would beat Obama by 53 percent to 44 percent. But those numbers more likely reflect buyer’s remorse with Barack Obama than a sudden longing for a Romney administration. Indeed, the very same poll showed Romney losing to Hillary Clinton by 55 percent to 44 percent — not exactly the result Republicans are looking for in 2016.
In 2012, Romney got the nomination because he was running in one of the weakest fields the GOP had ever put forward. Just as Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld used to say that Guantanamo Bay was the “least worst” place to hold captured terrorists, Romney was like the Guantanamo Bay of candidates — the “least worst” person the GOP could nominate that year.
In 2016, Republicans have a much stronger field of potential candidates to choose from. Thanks to the GOP’s sweep of statehouses in recent years, there are a slew of successful governors other than Romney who could run, including Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Scott Walker. There is no need to settle for the “least worst” candidate this time around.
No doubt Romney has been vindicated since 2012. He was right about Russia, and correct when he warned that Obamacare would force millions to lose their health plans. But let’s not forget that Romney was also a horrible presidential candidate. He faced one of the most vulnerable incumbents in modern times — and found a way to lose.
He made huge tactical errors — from not responding to Obama’s devastating personal attacks all summer to letting Obama harness the power of data like a Bain Capital numbers-cruncher while Romney’s data-mining effort crashed and burned like, well, Solyndra.
But what ultimately cost Romney the election was a lack of vision — a flaw that is uncorrectable. Romney had changed positions so often over his career that by 2012 no one knew what he really believed.
Because he presented such a blank canvas, Romney allowed Obama to paint him as an unacceptable alternative. Indeed, he often took the brush in his own hands and did Obama’s job for him. Like when he told auto workers his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs” . . . or described himself as “severely conservative” (something no actual conservative would say) . . . or declared that “corporations are people, my friend” . . . or offered to bet Texas Gov. Rick Perry “10 thousand bucks” . . . or said “I like being able to fire people” . . . or declared his immigration policy was “self-deportation” . . . or announced “I’m not concerned about the very poor” . . . or dismissed 47 percent of the country as a bunch of moochers “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”
After this series of self-inflicted wounds, little wonder that only 35 percent of Americans said they believed that Romney cared about the poor, and just 38 percent said Romney “cares about people like me.” You can’t win an election when most Americans think you don’t care about them.
Why would Republicans want to relive that debacle? Mitt Romney is an utterly decent man who certainly would have been a much better president than Barack Obama. But he was given a golden opportunity to save the United States from a second Obama term and blew it.
Do Republicans really want to count on him to save the United States from Clinton’s first term?
Marc A. Thiessen writes for The Washington Post.