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Getty / Michelle Budge, Deseret News

Perspective: Romney 2024 — the third time’s a charm?

With Democrats on the ropes and Republicans divided, Mitt Romney should consider running for president

SHARE Perspective: Romney 2024 — the third time’s a charm?
SHARE Perspective: Romney 2024 — the third time’s a charm?

The year 2022 is shaping up to be a good year for the electoral prospects of the loyal opposition. Two years after losing the presidency — and then watching helplessly as Donald Trump’s petulance poisoned the Republican effort to win in Georgia and keep control of the Senate — the GOP is suddenly poised for a comeback in Congress.

Inflation and rising gas prices, frustration with liberal political leaders who clung to COVID-19 restrictions well past their expiration date, and concerns about how the administration is handling the twin threats of Russia and China (to say nothing of the U.S.’s bungled exit from Afghanistan), have all caused Joe Biden’s poll numbers to plummet.

Biden began his presidency with a 53% approval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight; he’s now at 42%, even after a post State of the Union bump. If this situation endures until November, Republicans should easily retake the House and possibly the Senate as well.

At that point, all eyes will turn to the 2024 presidential election, in which the Republicans will be well-positioned to make Biden a one-term president. Swapping out Biden for another Democrat — something oft-proposed by easily excitable pundits — is a nonstarter; to raise just one objection, his most likely successor, Vice President Kamala Harris, is even more unpopular.

Virtually any political figure with an R next to his or her name will look like the favorite, with the possible exception of Trump, who inspires rabid loyalty among a contingent of the Republican base while actively scaring off the suburban swing voters needed to take back the White House.

But while Trump would be one of just a few Republicans who might actually struggle to beat Biden in a theoretical matchup, there are certainly ways for the GOP to improve its odds, beyond simply not nominating Trump. Indeed, there is one candidate who would almost certainly attract independent, moderate and even Democratic voters — perhaps enough of them to win something approaching a landslide, if current conditions hold.

As a plus, he’s no novice: In fact, he’s already run for president.

I am talking, of course, about Mitt Romney.

Then-Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney poses with children wearing shirts which spell out “Romney” as he campaigns at the Iowa Events Center, in Des Moines, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012.

Then-Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney poses with children wearing shirts which spell out “Romney” as he campaigns at the Iowa Events Center, in Des Moines, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

The current junior senator from Utah, former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 GOP presidential candidate is less loved by some Republicans than he was a decade ago because the hardcore MAGA crowd considers him a traitor to Trump. But among non­-Republicans, his star has never shone brighter. He has burnished his credibility as an independent-minded politician who is not afraid to challenge Trump: He is the only Republican senator who voted to convict the president in both impeachment trials.

This would be a massive liability in the Republican primaries, of course, but it’s a huge asset in a general election.

Romney’s foreign policy credentials would also play well in the current moment, especially since Russia’s aggression will undoubtedly remain an important campaign issue. It was Romney, after all, who named Russia the U.S.’s No. 1 geopolitical foe during a debate with President Barack Obama. That claim prompted derision from Obama, who said, “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back … the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”

That jape has not aged well. But Romney has.

At 74, he’s currently five years younger than Biden; in terms of his comparative energy level, he could be two decades younger than Biden. If his speeches and media appearances are any indication, Romney has lost little of his eloquence; his Jan. 6, 2021 speech following the attack on the U.S. Capitol — in which he lamented “a selfish man’s injured pride, and the outrage of supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed and stirred to action’’ — still resonates more than a year later.

It’s true that Romney paid a political price for breaking so decisively with Trump. But it has also made Romney one of the most independent minded political figure in the country’s history. It bears repeating that this independent streak would do him no favors in the Republican primaries. The MAGA faction demands nothing short of perfect loyalty to Trump. But many persuadable voters outside the Trump bubble will appreciate that Romney is a man of convictions who was willing to condemn and punish Trump’s behavior.

Democrats do not view Romney with the same knee-jerk fear and scorn that they feel for other Republicans. Among Democrats in Utah, Romney has an approval rating of 60%. He’s better liked by Democrats than he is by Republicans.

In this Oct. 3, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver.

In this Oct. 3, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

The relentlessly tribal, bitter, two-sided nature of modern American politics means that the campaign would collapse some of these distinctions: Eventually, the media would attack Romney just as viciously as if he were Trump, and his approval among Democrats would fall. The other side of that coin is that many Republicans would conveniently forget his “Never Trump” heresies.

The key advantage for Romney, however, is that the media wouldn’t be so quick on the draw: The years of goodwill Romney has earned would be his advantage.

In fact, a prospective Romney campaign would benefit from having withstood withering, frequently misguided media criticism during the 2012 cycle. Reflecting on his own misguided treatment of “honorable” Republicans like Romney, the liberal commentator Bill Maher once said, “We cried wolf. And that was wrong.”

“The key advantage for Romney, however, is that the media wouldn’t be so quick on the draw: The years of goodwill Romney has earned would be his advantage.”

Who can recall Romney’s infamous “gaffe” that he was so excited to include women in his government that he possessed, quote, “binders full of women”? The media took Romney’s slightly awkward phrasing and used it to argue that the remark somehow proved he was toxic to female voters. “The comment shows how out-of-touch Mitt is with women,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern.

Never mind that Romney did actually possess said binders, which were recovered and delivered to The Boston Globe years later: That the media made a mountain out of this particular molehill reflects much more poorly on them than on Romney. By the standards of recent political discourse, the binders comment wouldn’t even register on the outrage scale. The Romney campaign should resuscitate the binders moment on purpose, to shame the media when they come after him.

Remember when they said this about me? Voters would roll their eyes right along with him.

The same would be true of the Russia line. In fact, various facets of the mainstream media have already begun conceding that they were wrong to jump on Romney for daring to name Putin as a bigger global threat than al-Qaida. “It’s time to admit it: Mitt Romney was right about Russia,” wrote CNN’s Chris Cilizza in a recent article. “Romney Was Right All Along, Democrats Admit,” observed The Telegraph. “Romney was Right About Putin,” said The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins.

In his interview with Coppins for The Atlantic piece, Romney showed characteristic magnanimity to his old foes, spiking the football only slightly — a rarity in today’s politics. “I’m pleased that more people recognize how great the peril is of an emboldened Russia,” he said. “But I don’t think that, by any means, I was the only person who saw Russia’s intent.”

Romney also made clear that while Russia was a serious threat as far back as the early 2010s, today the U.S. has an even greater geopolitical threat: China.

“Clearly, today, China is a greater threat to our security and our economic vitality,” he said, and rightly so.

While his demeanor could not be more different from the ex-president’s, Romney is still a conservative Republican with a conservative voting record. He will advance a Republican agenda, but he will do so free of the considerable baggage that weighs down Trump. He will also work across the aisle — something desperately missing in Washington.

Unfortunately, Trump seems likely to run for president again. After the madness of Jan. 6, the GOP had one chance to rid themselves of Trump forever — impeachment and removal — and if more Republicans had possessed the courage to follow Romney’s lead, the one man who could ensure Biden’s reelection would have been prohibited from making another go of it.

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Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, with wife Ann holding the Bible, is sworn into office by Vice President Mike Pence in the Old Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 3, 2019.

Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

Instead, party leadership failed to act, and now Trump is once again the party’s de facto leader.

“We did it twice, and we’ll do it again,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, last month, suggesting that he had actually won in 2020. “We’re going to be doing it again a third time.”

Defeating Trump in the 2024 Republican primaries will be a nigh impossible task, even if anyone could be persuaded to try. In all likelihood, the nomination is his if he wants it.

More’s the pity.

It’s within the realm of possibility that Trump defeats Biden in 2024: Modern U.S. presidential elections are usually close, given how evenly split the country is — with the Democrats’ numbers advantage canceled out by structural Republican strength in the most consequential swing states.

Virtually any other Republican would stand a better chance against Biden, however, and Romney — and Romney alone — has the chance to win decisively and usher in a new and more united brand of politics.

A saner Republican Party would think twice before blowing it.

Robby Soave is a senior editor of Reason magazine and author of “Tech Panic: Why We Shouldn’t Fear Facebook and the Future.” His views are his own.