If Mitt Romney seeks the Republican Party’s nomination for the White House a third time, he could split the relatively moderate conservative vote at the detriment of former Florida governor Jeb Bush — and allow an anti-establishment third candidate to win.
Romney, who lost the 2012 election against Democrat Barack Obama with 47.2 percent support, hinted last week that he might try again.
The former Massachusetts governor unsuccessfully sought the Republicans’ presidential nomination for the first time in 2008.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that Romney was “moving quickly to reassemble his national political network, calling former aides, donors and other supporters” in what the newspaper characterized as “a concerted push to signal his seriousness about possibly launching a 2016 presidential campaign.”
According to the Post, Romney told supporters he would run to the right of Jeb Bush, the brother and son of former Republican presidents who signaled his own intention to seek the nomination last month.
Romney has tried to assure conservatives that he shares their views on immigration and tax policy — and that should he enter the race, he will not forsake party orthodoxy.
In the last primary election, Romney struggled to convince rightwingers he wasn’t a moderate, given his ambiguous views on abortion and support for health reforms in Massachusetts which served as a template for President Obama’s health-care overhaul.
The hard line Romney took on immigration at the time was widely perceived to have alienated potential Hispanic supporters, contributing to Obama’s reelection.
Bush has sounded more conciliatory on the issue. He supports legal status, but not citizenship, for illegal immigrants and said many who come to the United States illegally do so out of an “act of love” for their families.
Challenging rightwingers who call for ideological purity in the wake of two presidential election defeats, he also argued in an interview, “We need to be the governing party. The whole point of this is to take conservative principles and apply them. And the only way you can do that is get fifty plus one.”
Although a closer look at his governing record in Florida reveals that Bush is far less of a moderate than his opponents allow — he cut taxes by $14 billion, eliminated thousands of public-sector jobs, introduced tougher crime laws for repeat offenders, expanded gun rights and created the nation’s first statewide school voucher program — Bush and Romney would likely both be considered “establishment” candidates by the party’s right wing. Politico summarized last week, “Both are former governors, aligned with the business-friendly establishment side of the Republican Party.”
The political news website predicted the two would find themselves “competing for pledges from the same donors, not to mention the same pool of aides and operatives and the same types of voters in the Republican primary.”
Last time, Romney won the primary because his opponents split the right-wing vote. This time around, if reactionaries could rally behind a single candidate early on — such as the Texas firebrand Ted Cruz, the social conservative Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania or Kentucky’s libertarian senator, Rand Paul — Bush and Romney might end up denying each other victory and giving the nomination to a radical — who would then almost certainly be defeated by the Democrat in the general election.
Cruz, on Monday, was quick to criticize Romney, saying he represented the “mushy middle” and nominating centrist candidates had proven to be a “failed electoral strategy.” Santorum had earlier told Romney to “bring it on.” And The New York Times‘s Nate Cohn speculated on Monday that Paul would benefit the most from a split moderate vote if he could win in either of the early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire.