Mitt Romney: Savior of the GOP Elite?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Amidst the near insanity of covering the campaigns of 16 serious GOP presidential candidates (sorry, Jim Gilmore), it’s easy to forget to be grateful for how deep the Republican field is this cycle.  While Democrats scramble for an alternative to the sinking Hillary Clinton, the GOP race offers a bevy of options for those still searching for a candidate to get behind.

However, despite this enormity of options, the National Review reports that some Republican donors are still dissatisfied—so much so that they are turning in an unlikely direction for help:

Though this election cycle was supposed to feature the most impressive field of Republican presidential candidates in decades, a handful of the party’s major donors and bundlers remain underwhelmed by their options. They are longing for the bad old days, and Mitt Romney is still their man. These holdouts continue to hope that the former Massachusetts governor, who said in January he would not run for a third time, will change his mind. They believe he could dispel the chaos that has reigned over the Republican field for months. Though they gave plenty of money to Romney’s presidential campaigns, this year they’re keeping their wallets shut, waiting for him to reenter the fray.

Dr. Greggory DeVore, who in 2012 raised more than $1 million for Romney, is one of these men. He’s even printed up Romney 2016 bumper stickers, and his black Audi S8 has two pasted on the back. “Romney 2016,” they say. “I told you so — now let’s fix it.”

“The guy was prophetic in what he saw,” DeVore says of Romney. This cycle, he says, “I cannot commit a dime to anybody because I don’t see a future.” According to DeVore, several top Romney donors are keeping their powder dry because they “recognize that the people we’ve put out are not the same caliber as a Mitt Romney.”

There may not be a better example of the incredible divide between the Republican Party’s elite and its base than this story.  While outsider candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson continue to grow their support among voters fed up with the way the GOP has failed to live up to its promises, the Party’s biggest donors hold out hope for another run from a candidate who represents exactly those failures.

Let’s recap: Romney was defeated in 2012 for a number of reasons, mainly stemming from his inability to convince voters he cared about the issues they did.  This was a devastating handicap, as Romney lost by 126 electoral votes to a very weak incumbent.  Trump is succeeding where Romney failed, speaking directly to voters’ concerns and frustrations in a way Romney was never able to.  Although both have backgrounds as wealthy businessmen who have been on both sides of many issues, Trump seems to be able to connect with voters more directly than Romney could, chiefly, one suspects, because of his willingness to rail against the failures of the political establishment in general and not just against one party.  Romney, on the other hand, comes directly from that establishment.

It’s understandable that many GOP donors are concerned by the rise of Trump and are looking for a candidate who could compete toe-to-toe with him.  The thought that Romney might be that candidate, however, betrays a startling ignorance about the causes behind the Republicans’ defeat in 2012 and Trump’s overwhelming popularity now:

For their part, establishment Republicans can’t explain the appeal of these neophyte candidates and don’t quite know how to respond to it — but they certainly wish it would disappear. The failure of several more seasoned candidates to handle these disruptive forces has hurt their campaigns and disappointed donors.

[…]

“I think there are some good candidates in the field,” says Mike Hawkins, a California-based Romney bundler. “The problem is that none of them have Mr. Romney’s vision and capability and steady hand.”

It’s that steady hand that many say would bring some calm to the madness that overtook the race when Trump entered the field in June. “Mitt’s proven to be right on the critical issues and I kind of feel like Trump has turned this whole thing into a circus,” says [former Wall Street investor Dave] Van Slooten.

Of course, the major unanswered question here is: Why should Romney fare any better than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, or other establishment favorites who have failed to halt Trump’s rise?  A Romney entrance into the race would only turn it into more of a circus, not less of one.

The fact is, as both Maggie Gallagher and Gary Bauer have pointed out this week, it has been the establishment’s continued inability to carry through on issues of importance to voters, not the lack of “vision” or “a steady hand,” that has created the environment where a Donald Trump can thrive.  If Republicans want to thwart Trump’s increasingly serious bid at the White House, Mitt Romney is almost certainly not the solution.

Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.