Bring up the subject of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and the conventional wisdom has either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or political scion and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as the likely nominees. Oh sure, there's a few people who, with a straight face, believe Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are viable candidates, but they have as much of a chance of being nominated as I do. Which is why my money's on Mitt Romney 3.0.
A New Hampshire Granite Poll released last week showed Romney with an astonishing 39 percent lead over all other hopefuls including Christie, Bush, Paul, Rubio, Rob Portman and Ted Cruz, none of whom broke single digits. That's a pretty startling statistic. And one Romney is no doubt seriously mulling. When New Hampshire beckons, you listen.
Consider Romney the New Nixon. The dull, awkward loser who, despite all the odds, makes a stunning comeback, aided in part by timing and circumstance. Like Nixon, Romney likely won't stop running until he wins, regardless of his halfhearted statements to the contrary. Running for the most powerful and complicated job in the world requires a massive ego. Something Romney has in abundance. But he also has deep pockets and prominent pals with even deeper pockets. Lastly, he's an oasis of mainstream sanity in a sea of radical Tea Party lunacy. He's truly the GOP's Great White Hope.
There's a reason Romney's polled 31 points higher in New Hampshire than other GOP hopefuls. It's a pretty sorry pack. Christie, the former Hope, is damaged goods. He's a belligerent, bullying, scandal-plagued New Jersey back-room brawler. And he's obese. Seriously, people, let's move on. It ain't happening. Bush? He stands the best chance despite his potential deal-killing last name, family troubles, and unpopular views on taxes and immigration....but only if Romney's not in the race.
Let's face it: Romney looks pretty damn good in a suit. And he's quite accomplished politically and in business, is squeaky-clean, and heads a quintessential all-American white-bread family. And once you peel away his fringe-pandering "severely conservative" layers, he's an unapologetic moderate at heart. Would that play well with independents and conservative Democrats this time around?
If Romney wants to win he must address four critical areas: first, he must shed the flip-flopper costume and demonstrate integrity and conviction in his positions. In short, he's got to grow some mainstream balls, embrace his record (including and especially RomneyCare) and stop pandering to the party's lunatics. Trying to out-crazy Rick Perry is not a winning strategy.
Next, he needs to show voters passion and personality, two critical traits that were painfully absent in the 2012 election. He must stop appearing robotic and out of touch. He needs to be the charming, compassionate Romney that his pals supposedly know, not the stiff, tone-deaf automaton who ran against Obama.
He also needs to acknowledge his wealth and put a productive spin on it: "Hey, I'm rich, ok? But guess what...so is every other presidential candidate! My wealth, which I amassed on my own as a businessman, is precisely what affords me the time and ability to commit myself to public service. To be able to help those less fortunate."
Lastly, he needs to clean house. Assemble a whole new team and, more important, a whole new campaign strategy. Together with his advisers, he must figure out a way to bring normal Republican voters to the primaries. The campaign can't be the exclusive playground of the nutballs. He's got a huge opportunity to appeal to all those moderates who lament that "there just doesn't seem to be any place in the party for folks like me anymore." If the man who's put the "aw" in awkward can enjoin them into the campaign early, and simultaneously come across as a real human being, 3.0 might just be his time in the sun.