There was a moment when it appeared that the next presidential contest was simply going to lumber into existence. A slowly emerging field would pace their way through the so-called invisible primary, sides would be chosen, teams selected, camps erected, and at the end, a kind of pecking order would emerge. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush surely played his part, dipping a toe in, letting the world know that he was sniffing at the brass ring, but not demanding an inappropriate amount of our time and attention. But that's over now. The trickle became a flood, and suddenly we're drowning.
And the man who loosed the blood-tide upon us? Mitt Romney. He's back, for backsies.
If you can find some kind of calm purchase to examine what the 2016 race -- at least, on the GOP side of the affair -- has become in just a matter of days since Romney, suddenly and (let's face it) unexpectedly opted to stake a claim for himself, you might be able to appreciate what Romney's done: unleashed a narrative-savaging, surrealist fever dream of pure Discordiana. Romney 2016, conceptually, seems like a hot lather of high, campy weirdness. It's a thing that cannot be. The Manic Pixie Dream Campaign. It gets you wondering if there's something to the fact that Romney looks a lot like the corporeal manifestation of the Church of the SubGenius' prophet, J.R. "Bob" Dobbs.
Romney's self-injection into a race from which most everyone had presumed he'd remain comfortably self-deported has had all of the effects of Eris' apple from "The Judgment of Paris." He's pushed other would-be candidates into a more aggressive space. He's awakened a faction of his own party, now determined to stop him, that couldn't have imagined one week ago that it would be necessary. And he's forced the abject chroniclers of the petty pacings of the election cycle to question what they are observing, and to wail at the seeming nonsense of a man, twice defeated, courting a third defeat amid conditions that will be even more difficult to surmount than they were the last time. "Where is the rationale for this?" they ask. "What's he playing at?" they wonder.
Maybe the truth is clearer if you stop wondering about what Mitt Romney is seeking to be, and focus on what he is: a bored, rich dude who, having been wronged, will now have his revenge.
Truth be told, on one level, I sort of enjoy the chaos. Romney is doing something genuinely unfathomable, and I'm embracing it. Elsewhere, that doesn't seem to be the case. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein doesn't understand what Romney is doing here, and to make that clear, he titles his piece on the matter, "I can't believe I have to write this post on Mitt Romney." I can't blame Klein for feeling that way, and everything he puts under that banner pretty much adds up to what we conventionally refer to as "sense." For example:
The real question is how Romney 3.0 would do against a field of stronger candidates than just Bush. If Romney’s whole pitch will be that he’s a better combination of conservatism and electability than anybody else, how would he do against, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker? Romney’s claim to fame as governor was working with Ted Kennedy and Jonathan Gruber to pass a healthcare bill that provided the model for Obamacare. Walker is known for taking on unions to push conservative tax, spending, collective bargaining and education reforms. Romney lost three out of four of his political campaigns. Remember, he was too chicken to run for reelection as governor in Massachusetts in 2006, because he knew he would lose and it would kill his chances of winning the GOP nomination — which he lost to McCain anyway. Walker, in contrast, won three gubernatorial elections in four years in a blue state with the entire weight of the organized national Left lined up against him.
It's really hard to resist the comparison between Walker and Romney, given that Walker's the one who's been proving the maxim, "If you come at the king, you best not miss," while Romney's last campaign is the one that ended with the "RNC autopsy."
Of a similar mind is New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, who joins Klein in the first-person headline: "I Refuse To Believe Romney '16 Is Real." Chait's rationale is fairly ironclad. He notes that the GOP base, having "grudgingly submitted to a Romney nomination in 2012" has plenty of better alternatives this time around, and the desire to ensure the nomination doesn't fall to a squish. He observes that Romney has not "learned to suppress the traits that made him a figure of ridicule" last time out. Most damningly, Chait points out that one of the central pillars of Romney's campaign -- that the failure to elect him would inevitably lead to "fiscal calamity" -- has, in the ensuing years, collapsed.
"Nothing could convince me that Romney will actually run for president, not even Romney taking the oath of office," Chait writes, "My reasoning here is that another Romney candidacy would be insane, and Romney is not insane."
Sure, but Mitt Romney is still a super-rich guy with nothing better to do right now. So why not? What can he possibly lose from a third attempt at this? Failure means he returns to a lifetime of wealth and a family that clearly loves him dearly. Sounds good to me. Not doing anything means sitting back and watching all those candidates -- your Christies, your Jebs, your Rubios, your Walkers -- run for president. Those are the guys who the GOP's established pundits were begging to jump into the 2012 race, even as Romney was working hard to become the frontrunner. Those are also the guys who, apparently, didn't have the stones to face Romney at the time.
If you had nothing but time, and all the money you could want, why wouldn't you troll those clowns?
Let's talk real: Romney running a third time isn't insanity. Joe Biden might run for president a third time. Ronald Reagan did run for president, three times. A third Romney run isn't something that defies sanity, it simply defies convention. It stands apart from an accepted wisdom that suggests that the public, having rejected Romney twice before, would do so again. And yes -- that position makes eminent logical sense.
But here's the thing: what have Mitt Romney's critics, for as long as I can remember, begged him to do? They've begged him to be less robotic and less technocratic. They've filleted him for his aversion to risk. They've demanded that he "show his human side." Well, this is it, folks! Mitt Romney's human side is that he's a bored rich guy who wants to be president. A third run from Romney would be as pure an act of humanity as we've ever seen from Mitt -- it's gloriously illogical, impetuous, hubristic, and foolhardy.
So Mitt Romney is here to mess with your narrative, tip over everyone's tidy paradigms, and send those who had antagonized him into fits of apoplexy and fugues of confusion. Yes, this probably won't work out, but why should that trouble him? Mitt had strings, but now he's free, to become a real human boy at last.
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