Is There A Romney-Bush War Looming?

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jan 15, 2015 1:30 PM
Is There A Romney-Bush War Looming?

It’s the battle of the “RINOS.” Mitt Romney isn’t all that impressed by Jeb Bush. He sees him as a flawed candidate, who cannot beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. 

David Freedlander of the Daily Beast wrote that while Romney was on the stump raising cash for Republicans in the 2014 midterms, he would tell folks he’s not running in 2016. But privately he told some Republican donors that he would toss his hat into the ring if there were no emerging consensus candidate. As for his thoughts on Bush, one donor allegedly heard Romney say that "a Bush can’t beat a Clinton," but, “someone is going to catch fire,” he added:

As the primary season heats up, this analysis has been echoed by others, who say that a Clinton-Bush matchup would boil down to a race between the peaceful, prosperous 1990s and the 2000s with its War on Terror and Great Recession—a comparison that the GOP wants to avoid.

But people inside Romney world see other flaws as well. They point out that Bush has not run a competitive race since 1998, when he was elected Florida governor, a lifetime ago in politics. They see someone who has problematic positions on education and immigration, probably the two most crucial issues to the Republican base. They see someone who does not seem to have the stomach for a nasty nationwide battle for the nomination, and a 2016 rollout that has been shaky at best, with its awkward cellphone videos and avoidance of the public and the press.

“They have not done a lot to flush out the details of his candidacy,” said Tom Rath, a senior adviser to Romney in both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, speaking of Bush. “His time as governor was quite a while ago. A substantial number of Republicans have never heard him deliver a speech. Mitt is a proven commodity.”

This commodity, Rath pointed out, proved its value in the 2014 midterms, when Romney became one of the Republican Party’s most sought-after surrogates, stumping for winning candidates from Alaska to Florida.

And if Romney insiders think that Bush is a flawed candidate, there are certainly many Republicans who feel the same way about Romney.

“Mitt has shown his colors,” said one major fundraiser to Romney’s 2012 effort. “And as a campaigner he is totally s**t.”

This also comes after the Wall Street Journal editorial board said that Romney 3.0 was “recycled” trash. As Noah Rothman at Hot Air aptly noted:

The Journal closed by observing that Romney does not bring anything to the table that the many other prospective candidates vying to lead the GOP. They failed to make any recommendations, but this editorial clearly suggests that Romney should get out of the way and make room for some new blood.

Yet, that’s not what Team Romney is urging Mittens to do, and by Team Romney, I mean his family.

The family that once said “no” to a 2012 presidential run (Mitt voted no) has seemingly warmed up to the idea of another Romney run for the presidency; a point pushed by Mitt’s campaign advisers months after his loss to Barack Obama in 2012, according to Matt Viser of the Boston Globe:

Over the holidays, Romney gathered with his family in the ski resort of Park City, Utah. In between Christmas services with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a Brigham Young basketball game, hanging 22 stockings over a very large fireplace — as well as a chance encounter with Conan O’Brien — the family discussed whether its patriarch should again run for president.

Ann Romney, once cool to the idea, shifted over the past few months and is now encouraging her husband to run again, a person close to the family said. Romney’s oldest son, Tagg, has also been encouraging Romney to run for several months. Romney’s other sons have mixed views, but all have said they would be supportive if he decides to get in the race, the person close to the family said.

So, what about Romney and Bush–if this does become a showdown? Is Bush’s chance of clearing, or reducing, the 2016 GOP field over?

Not really. Mitt doesn’t seem to be the candidate to challenge Bush from the right. As Nate Cohn over at the New York Times pointed out, Romney’s biggest problem with the GOP in 2012 wasn’t the Tea Party; it was evangelicals:

Mr. Romney just isn’t an especially credible standard-bearer for conservatives. It’s probably less of a problem for him than it was four or eight years ago, but his past heresies on issues like health care and abortion will still pose some sort of challenge.

Mr. Romney’s big problem in 2012 wasn’t among Tea Party supporters; it was among evangelicals. Mr. Romney performed significantly better among Tea Party supporters who weren’t evangelical than he did among evangelicals who weren’t Tea Party supporters.

But a successful challenge to Mr. Bush from the right would have to involve winning a lot of these voters, even though they have been Mr. Romney’s biggest weakness. There is no viable anti-establishment coalition that does not include large percentages of evangelical Christians. Mr. Romney — a Northern Mormon with a history of moderate politics — has not been very effective at winning them over.

Cohn mentions that Iowa is full of evangelical voters, though Romney is leading by a huge margin in that state.

Yet, these two flawed candidacies can turn into an ugly war of attrition due to the money and fundraising capabilities of both Bush and Romney. Then, we have two wealthy white men duking it out, leaving each other–and the GOP–bloodied as Hillary, who is also a flawed candidate, easily consolidates the Democratic base to attack the entire Republican field.

Conservatives could feel frustrated again as the race boils down to who has more money and who is more moderate. I mean, the wealthy elite of the GOP once again rising to the top, both flawed, one relatively untested in national elections, and the other a two-time loser; can you hear the balloon deflating–and with it the GOP’s chances of retaking the White House?

Oh, and given Hillary’s “dead broke” gaffe, which many viewed as a disastrous slip-up, let’s not kid ourselves that Democrats wouldn’t rehash Romney’s “47 percent” comment. Do we want to defend that again to the liberal media?

And, that will probably be around the same time we build bunkers to brace for the “I’m not concerned about the very poor” attacks as well.