Dear Mitt Romney: Shake it off

The pundits think you can’t win, but we know better

(Getty Images/Yahoo News)

Dear Mitt,

I read with great excitement that you have decided to quietly sound out contributors about the possibility of forming an exploratory committee that could take the next step toward filing papers that might lead to your seriously considering a potential campaign for president. That’s precisely the kind of crisp, gut-level decision making we need in Washington.

I was even more excited about this possibility after someone reminded me that you had actually been the nominee in 2012. Memory gets hazy, but I could have sworn that Republicans in the last election had nominated a microtargeting algorithm. When Paul Ryan brings warmth and levity to your campaign, you know there’s a problem.

But let’s leave all that in the past. Because I’ve been reading the idle punditry of my colleagues this week, most of it saying you can’t win this time around, and I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t take any of that seriously.

Haters gonna hate, Mitt, but you’ve still got that hella good hair, you know what I’m saying?

Let’s run through the arguments. First, the media clairvoyants just don’t see any clear path to the nomination. The religious conservatives in Iowa still don’t like you. New Hampshire’s grumpy electorate gave a quarter of its primary vote to Ron Paul last time around, and his son will be about five times more formidable there. You might as well drive right through South Carolina on your way to Florida, which should be locked down for Jeb if he runs.

But you and I know that the variables here are endless. I could give you a hundred paths to a second consecutive nomination.

Suppose, for instance, all 20 Republican candidates show up for a debate in Des Moines. And then you go out to your car for a minute, because you left your briefing book or maybe you forgot that the dog is strapped to the roof, and at that very moment, say, a North Korean missile streaks out of the sky and vaporizes the entire field, along with the party’s most ardent activists and most of the national media.

That’s not your only clear path to the nomination, of course. But for strategic purposes, it’s the one I’d focus on right now.

Then there’s this fixation on political history. The Washington Post points out that, since the dawn of the 20th century, only one defeated nominee of either party — Richard Nixon — has managed to come back and win. Nixon, of course, defeated Hubert Humphrey, who ran as a compromise nominee in 1968, tried to be all things to all factions and ended up, by 1972, a candidate without any clear constituency. Maybe that sounds familiar.

But hey, history is like science — it’s all subjective! Until 2008, we’d never had a black president, either. Maybe the country has finally grown to the point where it can accept a candidate who keeps running all the time because he can’t figure out what else to do. Maybe Harold Stassen just died too soon to see the promised land.

And anyway, Nixon might be a great role model here. Remember how he shamelessly wooed the right and trounced all those mushy antiwar liberals, like Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney.

Awkward. Let’s just move on.

The handicappers say you lack the political instinct and communication skill to go up against a Jeb Bush or a Chris Christie or a Rand Paul. They say you’re about as fluid and spontaneous as that creepy Abe Lincoln robot at Disneyland.

Oh, how quickly they forget! It’s not like you got to be the nominee by accident, is it? You had to beat back Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, for crying out loud! Cain had that whole “9-9-9” tax plan going. It was crazy, sure, but if he hadn’t unraveled amid allegations of sexual harassment, you might have actually been forced to come up with an idea of your own.

Then the whole thing nearly came undone when Newt Gingrich crushed you in South Carolina. Talk about a tough opponent! OK, so he’s never been elected to anything outside of a congressional district in Georgia, but do they know how many books that guy’s read? It’s like he swallowed the entire Library of Congress. No wonder you had to spend something like $75 million to nail down the nomination.

Of course the talking heads will say that the moment for a corporate turnaround type has come and gone. After all, when you ran in 2012 (and, before that, in 2008), the economy was a disaster, and unemployment was surging above 8 percent. Now it’s at 5.6 percent and falling, while budget deficits continue to shrink, which might not cry out for a balance-sheet expert.

And yet we know the only people really benefiting from this Obama recovery are the 47 percent who just sort of sit around, refusing to pay taxes, living off the government, drinking by the public pool. I’m sure higher productivity and rising tax revenues don’t actually do much for what you famously described as your half of the country, the people who work. They’re probably still clamoring for a guy with his own multilevel garage.

Here’s the thing, Mitt. If you really, really want to run for president again, no one should discourage you. It’s your time and probably a lot of your own money, and you can do what you want with it. And truth be told, we’ve elected plenty of presidents who had longer odds and less skill than you.

But the real problem in 2012 was that you seemed to be borrowing the party rather than steering it, running to have the job you’ve always coveted rather than to do anything specific with it. I’ve referred to you previously as “the least known and least knowable nominee in modern history,” and I think that was the plan.

So if you’re going to run one last campaign, at least run with a discernible worldview and some genuine ideas. If you’re going to become a three-time loser, you might as well lose for some principle other than caution.

Or maybe you won’t lose at all. Politics, like life, is often mostly about showing up. And maybe dodging a North Korean airstrike.