Well that sure was fast. At the beginning of this week, Mitt Romney 3.0 was the talk of the political world, and while it's certainly unusual for a candidate to lose a general election and then come right back and run again, it didn't seem absurd. I myself wrote a column titled "Why Not Mitt?", arguing in part that from where Romney sits, the idea seems perfectly reasonable. He never went away like most presidential losers do, but kept going around the country endorsing and stumping for candidates, and he was well-received. Republicans kept telling him what a great president he would have been. The field of potential opponents doesn't look intimidating at all. And so on.
But within just a few days, the entire Republican world, from conservatives to moderates, from office-holders to pundits, from strategists to hangers-on, has turned on Romney with a spectacular fury. Five days ago it was, "Huh, another Romney run—interesting." By today it's "Depart this land and never return, accursed one." Right now it seems like the only people left who want Mitt to run are his family members and people who he's employed in the past (and not even all of them).
The floodgates may have been opened by this editorial on Wednesday from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which is as close to an official voice of American conservatism as there is. The Journal laid into Romney for being a bad candidate in 2012 and not showing much reason why he'd be better in 2016, and that may have made other conservatives feel like they had permission to speak out, to reporters and on their own, in opposition to him. There has been a wave of articles quoting Republicans both on and off the record against Romney, with headlines like "Republican activists widely say Romney should sit out White House run," "Mitt Romney faces skepticism, frustration as he looks to 2016," and "Mitt Romney backlash intensifies." As conservative reporter Byron York wrote last night, "In the last day or so, [conservatives have] all gotten their boots on and publicly reacted to Romney 2016, and their preliminary verdict is not at all favorable." Even Peggy Noonan, relentless chronicler of Americans' gut feelings and secret longings—who on the eve of the 2012 election assured readers that Romney would win despite what the polls said because "All the vibrations are right"—has today turned rather viciously on the man she used to hold in such high esteem:
There is no such thing as Romneyism and there never will be. Mr. Romney has never encompassed a philosophical world. He has never become the symbol of an attitude toward government, or an approach to freedom or fairness. "Romneyism" is just "Mitt should be president." That is not enough.
He is a smart, nice and accomplished man who thinks himself clever and politically insightful. He is not and will not become so. He should devote himself to supporting and not attempting to lead the party that has raised him so high.
Hard to argue with that. On the other hand, are there any potential GOP candidates about whom one could say they "encompass a philosophical world"? Is there a Jebism or a Christieism or a Walkerism or a Jindalism or a Rubioism? There may be a Cruzism, but as philosophies go it's repugnant.
So what happens to Mitt now? He could say, "Well, the trial balloon didn't float, so nevermind," and find something else to do with his time (keeping in mind that it's been eight years since he last held a job, and that entire time was spent running for president). Or he could decide that this is just another hurdle to climb over on the way to his ultimate goal, no more daunting than all those behind him. He could just persevere like he always has, not letting the skeptics get him down, keeping his chin up and his eyes forward, heading with strength and optimism toward that brighter day that he knows deep in his heart is coming.
That's what I'm guessing he'll do, because that's who he is.