"If we don't run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we will lose." Thus spake Ann Coulter months ago.
This is actually what the top guys in the GOP are counting on, whether the eventual GOP nominee is Romney or one of the others currently in the field. (For the sake of convenience, let's assume it's Romney.) The GOP biggies could have made a run themselves for the GOP nomination but steadfastly didn't. Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, and other GOP senators and governors were relentlessly beseeched to run last year by the GOP. Ann Coulter and the other beseechers were wasting their breath. Instead the might-have-run GOPers have their eyes on 2016.
If Romney loses in 2012, they will have a clear shot at the presidency in 2016 instead of facing an incumbent president this year who is one of the best campaigners of all time. In their self-centered calculations, it's better to have four more years of Obama than to wait eight years through a Romney presidency for a chance to run in 2020.
We know this is the way they are thinking because of the resounding silence that permeates the top tier of the GOP. Note, please, the total absence of a rush to endorse Romney. All along he has been the only semi-sane contender for the GOP nomination, and therefore the only sane endorsement for the top tier GOP to make. By this time in 2000, 88% of GOP governors and senators had endorsed a primary candidate. That figure is now 26%.
So where is the plethora of endorsements one might expect from the heavyweights among the GOP governors and senators?
They aren't forthcoming because these potential future nominees not only don't want Romney to win the presidency; they don't want to dirty their hands with him during his bid for the nomination. Why endorse a man who is an incredibly bad candidate, ineptly making himself the poster boy for the hated 1% while hopping around with one foot in his mouth? Why sully oneself by endorsing a man who is also deeply distrusted by the base of his own party? As yesterday's caucuses in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri clearly show, the GOP base likes Romney even less than they did four years ago.
Yes, there have been some endorsements. John McCain has no future in presidential politics, so he could go down to Florida to campaign for Romney (inadvertently upstaging him, which is easy to do with Romney). Chris Christie made an on-stage pitch for Romney a while back but likely because of a deal he seems to have made with Romney last year. Coyly flirting for a week or two with a run for the nomination and raising high hopes among the GOP, Christie then talked with Romney and afterwards announced he would not run. At least not for the presidential nomination. But I'll bet he made a deal to be Romney's pick for vice-president. The price? Don't seek the presidential nomination but instead endorse Romney. Christie has nothing to lose if he becomes Romney's vice-presidential pick. Should Romney lose, Christie becomes first in line for 2016. If Romney wins, Christie is first in line in 2020. Christie has put in one token appearance for Romney thus far. Don't hold your breath until the next one.
Because who in hell wants to actually hang out with Romney and campaign for him? Associating publicly with him is going to alienate the GOP base for any 2016 GOP primary candidates. Romney is so repulsive to the far-right that turnout for the Florida GOP primary and the Nevada caucuses fell dramatically this year as compared to 2008 even though the predictions were that the Obama-hating GOP base was fired up and would turn out in droves this primary season. (The increased turnout in Iowa was likely due to Santorum's year-long on-the-ground efforts, while that in South Carolina was likely attributable to Gingrich's fire-breathing demagoguery in the debates.) The GOP turnout in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado yesterday was dismal. Romney not only lost those caucuses; his candidacy has lost the GOP its energy.
On January 2, I posted a blog on why the biggies in the GOP had chosen to pass up a run for the nomination in 2012. One of the reasons I mentioned was that the economy might improve and Obama's numbers with it. That had been apparent all through 2011 behind the ups and downs of the monthly job reports, especially as the sales numbers came in on autos through the year. The GOP might-have-been candidates can read numbers as well as anyone, if not better. They also had plenty of chance to see Obama doing the right things about the debt ceiling debacle while the GOP House fell into the trap of looking like mindless villains, thus repelling independents. By September, Obama had closed the trap with his Kansas speech, making clear he would have a compelling platform to run on. He had used 2011 to convince the American public that he was the reasonable man in a roomful of reckless intransigents, and in Kansas he convinced them he is a fighter too.
Most important of all, Americans like Obama very much. Even those who disapprove of his performance still like the man, according to the polls. That was true in Reagan's first term. And we all know how that turned out when Reagan ran for re-election. The FIRST RULE in politics: American voters want a president they can LIKE!
And the top GOP guys know this. Thus they know that now is not their time.
Only a stubborn, self-deceived terrible candidate like Romney would care to run head-down at such a formidable wall. (The insane GOP contenders don't count, and they are all insane.)
So let him, the GOP biggies conclude. Let Romney bang his head against a wall. But they aren't going to the wall on his behalf. He's their Bob Dole of 2012, the guy none of them expects to win or wants to win. He's just a place-holder on the ticket until better days. When it's their turn, and when it makes sense.
Meantime they can sit back and see if the Tea Party and other crazies in the GOP run out of steam this year, or in the next four years, and drift off into the sunset. Tea Party type movements tend to do that. Without Obama to hate in 2016, the far-right may not be such a vociferous part of the GOP. This would give a somewhat moderate Republican a chance to run without going so far right in the primaries that he or she has no chance to make it back into the middle in the general election. In short, waiting for 2016 lets things settle down in the GOP. Or at least the potential future candidates can hope so.
So, run, Romney, run. May you enjoy the true loneliness of the long distance runner as your top GOP pals studiously ignore you. And probably secretly snigger each time you stumble.
Their track event is in 2016.