Joe Biden likes him. Hillary Clinton likes him. Could 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney be poised for a comeback, likely as a U.S. Senate candidate? In recent days, the former governor of Massachusetts, who has kept a relatively low profile since his 2012 loss, has returned to the news cycle. A public critic of Donald Trump, Romney was apparently widely encouraged by Republican friends to compete against the business tycoon for the 2016 GOP nomination. In the end, Romney decided to sit out the race…and seems to regret it.
Similarly, former vice president Joe Biden seems to regret not running in 2016. In October 2015, the politisphere waited anxiously to hear whether or not, in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal going viral, Biden would jump into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ultimately, Biden decided against running, leaving Clinton as the sole recipient of establishment support. Looking back, the septuagenarian former Senator insists that he could have beaten Trump.
With Biden encouraging Mitt Romney to run for a U.S. Senate seat, could a 2020 Romney/Biden matchup be in the works?
Obviously, the affinity of big-league Democrats for the former governor is probably not entirely altruistic: As a prominent Trump critic, Romney is seen as a better deal than any Trumper. Democrats would love to see Romney, or any moderate Republican, defeat a Trump ally in any GOP primary election. In this regard, it makes sense for Dems to be praising the names of moderate Republicans. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?
While Democrats may be angling to get more moderate Republicans in Congress at the expense of Tea Party or Trump Republicans, they may also be hoping to win more seats outright by splitting the vote. Praise from moderate and conservative Democrats could encourage moderate Republicans to jump into congressional races against Tea Party or pro-Trump incumbents, thus creating a contentious primary that divides the GOP electorate.
In the end, the Democrats win the general election because the conservatives are divided. What looked like a signal of support for moderate Republicans ends up being a Trojan horse. But, before we judge, know that Republicans could do the same thing themselves. It would be easy for the GOP to manipulate elections in districts with strong establishment and progressive camps by encouraging either pro-Clinton or pro-Sanders Democrats to run in the primary. The liberals would be divided, and the Republican nominee would win the general election.
Or, perhaps, having anti-Trump Republicans in Congress is considered more valuable than more Democrats. If a majority cannot likely be achieved in 2018, given the state of the electorate, Democratic strategists may intentionally focus more on promoting a moderate Republican than a long-shot Democrat. In safe districts, Democrats’ only hope to combat Trumpism may be to manipulate GOP primaries to ensure that a moderate Republican gets the nomination.
When it comes to Romney himself, having such a vaunted GOP figure and Trump critic in the Senate may be considered even more valuable than a bona fide Democratic win. While a Democrat would inevitably vote against Trump wherever needed, a Republican could sow dissent internally and fight Trumpism from inside the GOP itself. As for Romney personally, pitting the architect of Romneycare against the unpopular reforms of Trumpcare would be a big win for liberals.
Republicans who wouldn’t be caught dead siding with Democrats on healthcare would be a lot more willing to side with Mitt Romney. Romney and John McCain, the 2012 and 2008 Republican presidential nominees, respectively, are important co-belligerents for Democrats because they provide cover for other Republicans to resist Trump. Having both prominent Trump critics in the U.S. Senate could wrest away Trumpism’s influence on Senate Republicans permanently.
But there is a risk to bringing Mitt Romney back into electoral politics: Democrats are just now beginning to fight for his former supporters. These “Romney Republicans” are fiscal and social moderates, not liberal but unwilling to support the austerity measures and allegedly discriminatory policies favored by Donald Trump. Unable to stomach a Trump vote, many of these white-collar moderates are thought to have voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Although much ado has been made about those who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016, political commentators report that the media should also note the many who voted for Romney in 2012 and Clinton in 2016.
Bringing Mitt Romney back into action could swiftly return the Romney 2012 / Clinton 2016 voters to the GOP, especially if Romney decides to challenge Trump for the 2020 Republican primary. Influencing the Republican presidential primary, however, may be Democrats’ ultimate goal: If you’re not sure that you can field a candidate who will beat Trump in the general, why not help a moderate who could smash him in the primaries? This sounds outlandish, but initial media reports indicate that the 2020 Democratic primaries could be as contentious as the 2016 Republican ones.
Just in case the Dems nominate another dud, why not purchase some anti-Trump insurance by helping Mitt Romney oust him in the primaries?