Over the Christmas break of 2010, Mitt Romney and his family took an internal poll on whether he should run for president once more. Twelve family members cast ballots. Ten said no. One of the 10 was Mitt Romney himself.
The doubts that the former Massachusetts governor harbored before ultimately launching his second unsuccessful bid for the presidency are one of several attention-grabbing details in “Collision 2012,” the newest book on the 2012 campaign.
Mitt Romney had other reasons to think that not running might be the wiser choice. Winning as a moderate from Massachusetts who happened to be Mormon was always going to be difficult. “A lot of the thinking on the part of my brothers and dad was, ‘I’m not sure I can win a primary given those dynamics.'” Tagg Romney said. The prospective candidate also knew the sheer physical and family toll another campaign would take. “He’s a private person and, push comes to shove, he wants to spend time with his family and enjoy his time with them,” his son said. “Even up until the day before he made the announcement, he was looking for excuses to get out of it. If there had been someone who he thought would have made a better president than he, he would gladly have stepped aside.”
In an interview with Balz that’s placed at the very end of “Collision 2012,” Romney explained that he ultimately decided to run when he saw the other (leaving-something-to-be-desired) candidates in the GOP field.
“I didn’t think that any one of them had a good chance of defeating the president,” he told Balz, “and in some cases I thought that they lacked the experience and perspective necessary to do what was essential to get the country on track.”
As you can imagine, gloating liberals are piling all over Romney with such clever lines as “he lost an election in his own family.” But this actually makes me much more sympathetic to Romney. It shows a good political awareness. It confirms what I long suspected — that he didn’t like the limelight and was much more comfortable with family, friends and the numerous good causes he’s involved it.
But more importantly, it shows that he was motivated by something other than his own ego. Romney didn’t want to run. But when he looked at the GOP field, he realized what a catastrophe loomed for the GOP (if we were lucky) and potentially the country (if we weren’t). The GOP field was so lackluster in 2012 that Rick Santorum looked like the sane one. It included Herman Cain, who had zero political experience and mistook a campaign slogan for a platform. It included Newt Gingrich, whose best skills were debating himself and abandoning wives. It included Ron Paul who, as much as I like him, is totally unsuited to be President. It included Michele Bachmann, who was just fucking nuts.
A handful of decent candidates eventually emerged but Rick Perry quickly swallowed his own foot up the waist and, in my opinion, was running more because people wanted him to than any genuine interest. Jon Huntsman was my favorite, but never went anywhere.
As bad as election 2012 was for the GOP, I still think that Romney was the best of the nominees. Maybe someone who really wanted it would have done better. But I think that had the GOP really nominated someone like Gingrich or Bachmann, it would have been one of the most epic political defeats of all time, with the GOP likely losing the House. In the end, Obama’s narrative — “it was on fire when I got here” — won the day. But I still think Romney would not have been a bad President — certainly not as awful as the liberals like to pretend he would have been. And the fact that he ran reluctantly and only because he felt the country needed him makes me a little sadder than he didn’t win. Not for him: I have difficulty drumming up much sympathy for multi-millionaires with wonderful families and great lives. I feel sad because we could have used a little less narcissism in Washington.