Perhaps it says something about us that our most interesting presidential candidates swear they won't run for president. This is true of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and it's increasingly true of Mitt Romney.
As regular readers of this column know, I've never been much of a Romney booster. I've also expressed skepticism about the notion he would run again. But let's not let "a foolish consistency" cloud our judgment. There is reason to believe that a third try wouldn't be an absurd venture.
First, in the intervening years since 2012 — and on a range of issues, not the least of which is Russia — Romney has been proven right. And second — perhaps more important — one of the reasons so many observers viscerally disliked Romney was the cloying "goody-goody" quality that this fortunate son seemed to ooze. But do you know what the cure for that is? Losing.
That's right, Mitt Romney the scrappy underdog — the loser who's out to redeem himself — is a more attractive Mitt.
You know the term "lovable loser?" He should embrace it.
There's a reason why Rocky gets knocked out by "Clubber" Lang early on in Rocky III. The rest of the movie is about the comeback. This journey involves Rocky shedding the trappings of fame and wealth — and getting real.
Romney would similarly have to get real. No more phoniness. No more telling us what he thinks we want to hear. He would have to be utterly authentic, and he would have to show that losing caused him to encounter pain and reflection. (The good news is that the Netflix film, Mitt, already helped show this side of Romney.)
Could Romney III be like Rocky III? Maybe, if the narrative is true and convincing.
There's a reason the "comeback" trope resonates with us (aside from Rocky, it's a prevalent theme in almost every boxing movie, ranging from The Fighter to Cinderella Man). These tropes are timeless precisely because they tap into something that we intuitively understand about nobility, courage, and humility.
People like comebacks. We can identify with the guy or gal who is struggling to redeem themselves (and nobody has ever identified with Mitt Romney before).
Ironically, Romney is almost tailor-made to benefit from having lost before. What might be a devastating blow to most political figures — a blight on their résumé — actually transforms Romney into a more compelling candidate. Having struggled and stumbled is, for Romney, at least, a feature, not a bug. The same could be said for Hillary Clinton, who only became a compelling candidate in 2008 when she lost her front-runner status.
People who were hated the first time around — when their lives seemed charmed — can, by facing adversity and overcoming the odds, transform into sympathetic figures — heroes, even — that we actually root for (think: Robert Downey Jr.). Nobody has ever rooted for that scrappy Romney kid to overcome the odds. Until, maybe, now.
Someone who knows a thing or two about comebacks is Pat Buchanan. In fact, his new book is called The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.
During a recent discussion, I asked Buchanan about the prospects of Romney taking a page from the Nixon playbook. After all, George Romney figures prominently in the Nixon comeback story. "First, I admire that Romney is thinking of this," Buchanan told me during a recent podcast discussion, "and he ought to follow what's in his heart."
Buchanan, whose sister was a Romney adviser, believes that Romney should take a page from the Nixon handbook. Having lost to Kennedy in 1960, and then having lost the 1962 gubernatorial election in California, Nixon was assumed politically dead. But he was revived by working hard for other candidates — he worked hard for conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964 and backed liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller's candidacy in New York — just to name two of the many GOPers he hit the hustings for between 1962 and 1968.
"If I were Romney, there's no doubt I would do it," Buchanan (who thrice ran for president, himself) continued, adding, "But I'm not him."
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