WASHINGTON – Run, Mitt, run! You too, Jeb, and please bring along the whole roadshow of perennial Republican also-rans. Across the aisle: Go for it, Hillary! What all of you see so clearly is that the nation desperately wants to be led forward into the past, or back to the future, or something.
OK, not really. I don’t actually believe the nation is eager to see the 2016 presidential race devolve into a contest of attrition among the tired, the shopworn, the unviable and the famously surnamed. For the moment, however, this is the direction in which history appears to be trudging.
From the narrow, self-interested viewpoint of an opinion columnist who often writes about politics, the best news in months is that Mitt Romney has told political donors that he is seriously considering yet another run for president. If you are starting to laugh, take note of the fact that a Bloomberg poll last month found that Romney would do better in a race against Hillary Clinton than any of the other leading GOP contenders.
Why is this good news for scribes? Because the jokes are already written – the dog strapped to the roof of his car, the automotive elevator in one of his mansions, the compassionate vision of corporate personhood, the conviction that 47 percent of Americans are deadbeats. Just dust off this material, freshen it up a bit and you’re done before lunch.
Of course, Romney would have some explaining to do. He promised to reduce unemployment to 6 percent within four years; President Obama, who Romney said was clueless about economics, cut the jobless rate to 5.6 percent in just two years. In fact, the U.S. economy – with solid growth, plunging deficits and essentially no inflation – is the envy of the world.
If technocratic competence is not a promising way for Romney to frame his appeal, maybe he can try fiery passion. Seriously, I’d pay money to see that.
Assuming Romney comes to his senses, the candidate most likely to win the backing of the Republican Party’s establishment wing is Jeb Bush. He would seem almost the ideal candidate to win the presidency – a conservative who doesn’t frighten independents and gives the GOP a chance to win the most important swing state of all.
But, of course, there is one big problem: Tell me when anyone, Republican or Democrat, has ever uttered the words, “What this country really, truly needs is another Bush as president.”
If Bush had a different last name, I doubt anyone would even be giving Romney the time of day. But the GOP establishment is looking at options. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seems to be the flavor of the week – but keep in mind that the party has a habit of becoming infatuated with Midwestern governors who end up either not running (Mitch Daniels) or not gaining traction (Tim Pawlenty). Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, in any event, are standing by.
There was a time when it looked as if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would be the establishment’s favorite son, but that was before the George Washington Bridge scandal. Watching him try to make it through the campaign without losing his temper would be entertaining, but not particularly edifying.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict that recidivist candidates Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum will not win the nomination. Most remaining options come from the Republicans’ tea party wing, which is energetic, enthusiastic and kind of crazy. Sen. Marco Rubio is trying his best to get back into the conversation. Sen. Ted Cruz seems to have an interesting strategy: Alienate virtually all of the party’s leadership, then wait to be offered an ermine robe and a crown of laurels.
That leaves Sen. Rand Paul, who already has a formidable grass-roots organization. Could he run away with the nomination? Can he keep up the fiction that he’s a Republican and not a libertarian? I’ll admit that I’m skeptical.
Democrats, don’t be smug. Tell me with a straight face that you hear America singing, “What this country really, truly needs is another president named Clinton.” It is a mistake, in my view, to dismiss the whole dynastic issue as trivial. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t run – or perhaps even if she does – Sen. Elizabeth Warren is seen as an alternative. But her national appeal is untested.
In a nation of more than 310 million souls, we can do better. Um, can’t we?
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.