Mitt Romney would defeat Barack Obama if they were matched again today. One or two polls say so. But they’re not matched today and a poll like that is only for a friendly conversation over a cup of coffee.
It’s interesting because the Great Mentioner is mentioning Mr. Romney, despite his protests, as a possible for 2016, dropping his name into a stew with lots of carrots and potatoes but not much meat.
Pundits and political correspondents leap for table crumbs like this in late August of an off-year campaign before the heavy shelling begins after Labor Day. How many times can a pundit pontificate about Republican chances for evicting Harry Reid and the morose Democrats from the U.S. Senate?
Hugh Hewitt, the radio talker, asked Mr. Romney whether he would run if he “knew” he was the only viable candidate who could beat Hillary Clinton. That was easy. The state land commissioner of Idaho (if there is one) could not say no to the question if he “knew” that only he could save party and country. Who could?
Modesty forbade Mr. Romney, who has failed at presidential politics twice, to offer the full Sherman, given by Abraham Lincoln’s favorite arsonist when someone asked him if he would run for president: “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.” Only a jihadist eager to torch whole cities would give an answer like that.
Mr. Romney obviously doesn’t want to set fire to cities. “Look,” he told the interviewer, “I had the chance of running. I didn’t win. Someone else has a better chance than I do. And that’s why I’m not running.” And then the tease. “You know, circumstances can change, but I’m just not going to let my head go there.” It’s the self-deprecation so rare among politicians of all stripes that makes Mr. Romney irresistible to the reporters. “I’m expecting someone to be able to catch fire and get the job done.”
If there’s a flammable candidate in the prospective Republican field, it’s difficult to see him. Mr. Romney ran far ahead of the rest in a poll last week in Iowa, the first caucus state, for USA Today. Mike Huckabee, who also says he isn’t running, was second. Mr. Huckabee is still identified as “the former governor of Arkansas,” but he has relocated himself and his radio program to Florida, which has no state income tax to drain his considerable income.
Rick Perry, the governor of Texas for only a few more months, is eager enough, but that frivolous indictment in Austin, payback by an embittered prosecutor emboldened by a severe drinking problem, hurts him anyway, unfair though it is. Jeb Bush makes occasional noises, but he understands that the Bush brand may have the whiskers that come with age, and if he has fire in the belly it’s more likely to be indigestion than a yearning to follow his father and brother to the White House. Chris Christie insists he was only a phantom at that toll booth in New Jersey, and maybe he was, but he should have appointed his aides with greater care. Incompetent help can get an innocent man in trouble. All but one of the rest looks beyond the sell-by date.
Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, is smart, attractive and occasionally knows how to make the right noises, but he sounds ever more like his eccentric father, eager to sound an American retreat from the world. His “realistic foreign policy” would recognize that “there are evil people and tyrannical regimes in this world, but also that America cannot police or solve every problem.” His solution is to quit the fight because “we’re tired of war.”
A man with these views would be a very hard sell at a Republican nominating convention. The Democrats, in the wake of the Vietnam War nominated George McGovern, who held similar views. It took his party a full generation to recover, and the recovery is not complete. President Obama said Thursday that he doesn’t have a strategy yet to deal with barbarians trying to take over Iraq.
That’s why a man with a hard eye and a common-sensical view of the world looks attractive to many. Every buck private knows you don’t reassure your enemy that you’re “tired of war,” and every plebe at West Point and Annapolis knows better than to tell an enemy you have no strategy for dealing with him. Retreat from the world is not an option. The president’s bugler never sounds recall.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.