Politico recently reported on the thinking behind the ill-fated push for a third Romney campaign. Reading the report, I was struck by how clueless many people in the Romney camp still are about what went wrong with the campaign last time. For instance, one “senior adviser” maintained that foreign policy was one of Romney’s strengths in 2012, and said that there would be an even greater emphasis on it in a future campaign. I suppose one would expect a Romney adviser to think that his boss’ ideas were right, but the delusion that one of Romney’s most glaring weaknesses was a strength is harder to explain.
That got me to thinking about why a losing presidential candidate would want to attempt a do-over and why most losing candidates don’t make that attempt. Most losing candidates understandably don’t want to go through the grueling experience of a campaign again, and in almost all cases their parties don’t want them back. Each election cycle is different enough from the one before it that the supposed strengths that make a candidate an acceptable nominee in one election year are not necessarily relevant or desirable in another. Relatively healthy parties usually have enough new political talent waiting in the wings that they don’t have to fall back on having a retread nominee. Competitive parties don’t feel the need to turn to their last failed standard-bearer, but instead want to have new leadership that isn’t tainted by the previous loss. Most former nominees are neither so delusional nor so masochistic as to insist on another try, and if they do insist there is usually little or no support for their bids.
Romney fans like to cite Nixon’s example as proof that it is possible for a losing general election candidate to come back later and win, but they don’t try to explain why no one since Nixon has even made the effort. In the last century, it is not unheard of for a party to turn to a losing nominee a second time, but it is still fairly rare for a reason, and that reason is that it is almost always a guarantee of another loss. As it was, Nixon was (barely) able to win in ’68, and he had come much closer in 1960 than Romney did in 2012. He had been Vice President on two landslide-winning tickets, and already had far more relevant political experience before becoming president than Romney will ever have. Such comebacks for losing candidates are possible, but they are extremely difficult even for someone with Nixon’s background. Romney doesn’t have that background or anything like it.
Aside from all this, retread candidates are tiresome and start to appear desperate, especially by the third time around. By the time the first votes are cast in 2016, Romney will have been running for president almost without interruption for more than ten years, and he has done so without success. I suppose one could credit him with a strange sort of perseverance, but for most people that’s just evidence of an increasingly bizarre obsession. Like most other former nominees, Romney has nothing to offer his party, and his party can’t be so self-destructive and unimaginative as to want him back.