Since polling on the 2016 Republican presidential nomination began, a clump of hopefuls has spent time shifting into and out of the lead, but a new poll shows overwhelming support for a guy no one’s been asking about: Mitt Romney. Despite having lost the 2012 presidential election, and dropping out in the 2008 Republican primary, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Romney with a huge lead over the rest of the field. At 21%, Romney leads former Florida Governor Jeb Bush by 10 points. Bush’s 11 percent is tied with “Other/No opinion/Would not vote,” and slightly ahead of Sen. Rand Paul’s 9%. For some reason, Romney’s fellow also-ran Mike Huckabee is also still near the top of the pack.
Romney is busy stumping for congressional candidates in dank underground lairs these days, but his professed reluctance to run again could melt away with a few more poll result like these. Since his defeat in 2012, Romney has managed to win a couple of buyer’s remorse polls, and even though the election is still a long way out, the time is getting short for big Republican donors to line up behind an early favorite. With no other candidates distinguishing themselves, and none of them faring well against the Hillary Clinton buzz saw, a Romney candidacy might not actually be the worst idea in the world for Republicans.
His first, and perhaps biggest, advantage is that he has already weathered all of the worst attacks that can be thrown at him, and even the worst of those (the 47% remarks, “self-deportation,” the big Benghazi debate gaffe) are actually features, not bugs, in a Republican primary. His nearest rival, Jeb Bush, is going to get destroyed on immigration in the primaries, especially now that Republicans have completely abandoned any attempt to close their gap with Hispanic voters. Rand Paul is vulnerable to attack on multiple fronts, even from himself, but I personally can’t wait for the ads about Paul trying to give welfare and food stamps to convicted felons. Nothing warms my heart like Republicans getting destroyed by other Republicans over the only decent ideas they ever have.
But Romney’s second advantage is his position as that buyer’s remorse candidate, despite factual evidence in President Obama’s favor (he beat Romney’s unemployment promise by more than two years, and actually knows where Syria is, for example). Romney is the Republicans’ best chance to use their favorite strategy, making the election about Obama.
That strategy failed against Barack Obama, but has every chance of succeeding against Hillary Clinton, who has already shown an early propensity for alienating Obama supporters. Positioning her as the opponent in a Romney do-over election could send her sprinting away from Obama, and the coalition of voters he turned out in massive numbers. Conversely, the white male bloc that Republicans are holding onto like that headboard at the end of Titanic will already be lining up to prevent another “historic” candidacy, and will absolutely leap at the chance to symbolically erase the Obama years by electing his defeated rival.
The only trick now is getting Romney to run again, maybe with help from a not-so-little voice.