House Republicans are skeptical of a Mitt Romney re-run in the 2016 presidential race, according to interviews with a variety of members on Tuesday.
The complaints range from Romney’s ability to recover and learn from his resounding defeat as the Republican nominee in 2012, to his conservative credentials, a topic of longstanding consternation in tea party circles.
“One of the questions for Mitt Romney is, are you going to run the same campaign as last time? If so, then you may not be the right candidate. If you’re prepared to run a thoughtful, learned-from-experience campaign, then we’d like to hear your thoughts,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), a senior member who was recently term-limited out of his oversight chairmanship, told TPM.
“He has to tell Republicans how he’s going to run a campaign, what he’s going to stand for and how he’s going to get their buy-in,” Issa said. “And it cannot be identical to last time because many people were disappointed in his ability to properly define who he was and what he would do. That’s not a left or right statement but it’s a statement about his campaign, which was certainly not good enough to define a clear difference between Romneycare and Obamacare, between Romney foreign affairs and Obama foreign affairs, and so on.”
Romney is conscious of that vulnerability. While conveying his interest in running again, he has promised donors that he’ll be a different candidate in 2016.
“He’s telling people, wisely, that there were mistakes in the last campaign. We obviously didn’t win,” said a former Romney aide familiar with the candidate’s recent activities, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. “Mitt’s image has been very good post-campaign. He’s been proven right on a lot of issues. And the MITT movie did a lot to show who the real person is.”
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) described Romney as “more of a moderate, kind of establishment Republican as opposed to maybe some others who are a little bit more conservative.” He said Romney and Jeb Bush — who has also indicated an interest in the 2016 race for the White House — were “very similar candidates. I don’t know that there’s much contrast between them. … They fall pretty much in the same category.”
“I would more likely support somebody who is a border security candidate,” he told TPM. “Who’s focused on reforming our auto-pilot spending. Someone who’s completely committed to repealing Obamacare. … People who want to take bold steps the way Ronald Reagan did.” Asked who he prefers, Fleming mentioned Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) shrugged and walked away when asked for his thoughts on a Romney 2016 bid. And Jeb Bush? Another shrug.
Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL) was circumspect about a possible Romney re-run.
“Interesting, to say the least,” he told TPM. “We’ll see. There’s a whole lot of time between now and Republican primaries and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of folks coming out. … I think we’re going to have a lot of credible candidates this time.”
Fleming, too, stressed that the Republican presidential field could be large.
“You know, there’s going to be so many people jumping in this race,” he said. “There could be as many as six, maybe even more than that, that are serious contenders. So I think we’re going to have sort of a rainbow of candidates who are going to be different in different ways, but alike in many ways.”
Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) declined to weigh in on a potential Romney bid. “Oh, my preference is to not comment on presidential politics. I’ve got my hands full here with the House of Representatives,” he said. He was more willing to comment when TPM asked about Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) announcement that he won’t run for president in 2016. “Paul Ryan is a person that I would be happy to have as my president some day,” Flores said. “I’d love to see him.”
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) said he’s a “big fan” of Romney but that his “personal favorite” for 2016 was Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fellow South Carolinian. “He’s actually getting around to New Hampshire and Iowa,” Wilson said of Graham. He also talked up Walker, Pence and Ohio Gov. John Kasich as possibilities. “And I’m a big fan of Paul Ryan too. I like all of them.”
For his part, Issa wouldn’t count out Romney, acknowledging his ability to raise money and invoking the example of Richard Nixon, who narrowly lost the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy and came back in 1968 to win in a landslide.
“Mitt Romney was not well-defined in ‘what do you stand for and how will you lead’ in my opinion, because had he been fully defined, then I think he would have won the election,” the congressman said. “Certainly Richard Nixon made a comeback far greater than Mitt Romney has to make, having been the nominee of the party and losing, and eight years later being the nominee of the party and winning.”