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It’s not crazy for Mitt Romney to run for president again

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Mitt Romney has effectively been running for president since his only successful election to a political office — the Massachusetts governorship — back in 2002. That's roughly a decade spent pursuing the White House. Now, a new report by the Washington Examiner's Byron York suggests Romney is seriously thinking of trying again.

Pundits are mocking the return of Romney's ambitions. But given how the Republican 2016 field is shaping up, where Romney's poll numbers are, and the advantages he brings as a former nominee, Romney 2016 isn't being taken as seriously as it deserves to be. Here are six reasons it makes sense for Romney to consider running again.

1) The GOP field has weakened over the past year, and there's no clear frontrunner

Romney and Chris Christie

Christie campaigns for Romney in 2012. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty)

Though it's frequently been argued that Republicans have a strong field of potential contenders for 2016, a true frontrunner has yet to emerge, either in polls or among the party elites, activists, and interests who will help choose the nominee. No candidate has yet managed to reach even the low bar of 25 percent support in any national poll, and we're not seeing early endorsements from key party figures (like we're seeing with Democrats endorsing Hillary Clinton).

Even more importantly, several candidates who had hoped to gain the support of the party's establishment wing have weakened over the past year, as Jonathan Last argues. Christie's image was badly hurt by Bridgegate, Marco Rubio hasn't won back the trust of activists since co-authoring the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill, and Scott Walker is facing a tough reelection in addition to his own investigatory troubles. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan seems to want to stay in the House and chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

It's still possible that one of these candidates could manage to become the establishment choice — especially Christie, as federal prosecutors have reportedly found no evidence tying him to the bridge scandal. But it hasn't happened yet. Which means Romney has an opening to become the pick of the establishment, or at least a substantial piece of it.

2) A Jeb Bush run looks unlikely

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush in 2012. (Larry Marano/Wireimage/Getty)

"Romney is said to believe that, other than himself, [Jeb] Bush is the only one of the current Republican field who could beat Hillary Clinton in a general election," York writes. So there seems to be at least one candidate who would definitively win Romney's support.

But while there have been several trial balloons for a Jeb Bush candidacy floated recently, there are reasons to be skeptical he'll actually pull the trigger. First of all, he's been out of politics for years and focused on making money. For now, Bush has every reason to encourage speculation that he's running. It gives him increased media attention, perceived clout, and it makes him more valuable as a speaker and rainmaker. But he's at odds with the GOP base on issues like immigration and Common Core, and he's suggested that concerns from his family could be an issue. So Bush might well opt against a run, and Romney could feel that he's the party's only hope.

3) GOP voters and donors already know him

Romney and Paul Singer, 2009

Romney and top GOP donor Paul Singer in 2009. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In 2011, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty looked on paper like a credible rival to Romney. But he couldn't manage to make a mark in the GOP debates. Early state voters never rallied to his side, and when his poll numbers failed to rise, his campaign funding dried up. He ended up quitting the race in August.

Romney, on the other hand, is known to practically every Republican voter and already has relationships with most of the party's leading donors. Additionally, he has a core group of supporters in finance and business, and most of them "have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney," York writes. Plus, Romney remains personally wealthy. So he's likely to have no problems either financing a campaign or standing out from a crowded field to the electorate.

4) Romney can argue that he was prescient on foreign policy

Already, many conservatives are arguing that the various foreign policy crises of this year have vindicated Romney's past arguments. In the clip above, posted by Ian Tuttle of National Review, Vice President Biden mocks Romney for opposing an end to the war in Iraq, being "ready to go to war in Syria," and wanting "to move from cooperation to confrontation with Putin's Russia." Now, of course, Obama has gone to war against ISIS in in both Iraq and Syria, and moved towards more confrontation with Russia.

Foreign policy analysts might tear their hair out quibbling with the specifics here, but savvy political communications professionals could certainly use current events to present Romney as a prescient seer. Indeed, back in 2008 Romney frequently warned that radical Islamists were trying to form a Caliphate.

5) He's run for president before

Dec 2007 GOP presidential debate

A December 2007 GOP presidential debate. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Running for president is very difficult. You have to submit yourself to a nearly two-year long crucible where every single word and gesture you make is scrutinized, by both the media and political opponents seeking to destroy you. But having run for the nomination in 2008 and having won it in 2012, Romney is very much used to this. In contrast, everyone else in the prospective GOP field would likely be pitted against one of the most experienced political families in the country in the general election, despite having never run a national race before (or having performed poorly in a primary, like Rick Perry).

Another benefit of Romney's past runs is that he's already been heavily scrutinized by opposition researchers. Potentially damaging incidents in his past have already been dug up and aired to voters. Similar attacks on his Bain background would surely be made again, but they'd be old news and would get less attention.

6) His supposed weaknesses in a general election are overstated

Mitt Romney Hillary Clinton Getty Images

The Romneys and the Clintons, in 2007. (Eric Thayer/Getty)

Pundits frequently mock Romney as out of touch and gaffe-prone. "He is a terrible politician," Daniel Larison writes. "He proved to be a terrible presidential candidate," Philip Klein concurs. But back in November 2012, Ramesh Ponnuru convincingly rebutted this point. He pointed out that Romney outperformed many generic Republican candidates across the country — which suggests that the party was dragging Romney down, not the other way around.

Indeed, Romney managed to win 47 percent of the national vote in a year when the fundamentals favored Obama. And according to political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, voters in 2012 actually thought they were closer to Romney's ideological views than Obama's. A CNN poll in July found that, if a rematch of the 2012 election were held today, Romney would beat Obama by 9 points. Of course, there isn't any negative messaging aimed at Romney right now, but it's clear that most Americans don't think voting for him is a ridiculous prospect.

Furthermore, Republicans have already done a skillful job turning many past attacks on Romney's wealth and aloofness against Hillary ClintonRomney's biggest weakness as far as 2016 goes is that it might be harder to brand him as a "change candidate," compared to a fresher face, as Ponnuru argued later. But after 8 years of Democratic rule, a GOP win would, itself, represent change.

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