"Mitt wants to run. He never stopped wanting to run," an anonymous senior adviser of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign recently told New York magazine. Other members of Romneyworld have denied the former governor is interested in another campaign. But at this stage in the 2016 race, Mitt Romney should start preparing to get back in the arena.
Romney should be ready to enter the field to save his party from an awful reckoning between its leadership and its base, a reckoning that has been brought on by Donald Trump's campaign. Trump has proven that the "strongest GOP primary field in 30 years" is no such thing, creating an opening for the winner of the last primary. If Romney should win the primary, it would be an incredible political comeback. It would also be a gift to his party, forcing on the GOP the reality of a new and stable settlement between its factions.
Romney, if he can secure the nomination, has a much better shot in 2016 than he did in 2012. He would be running against Obama's third term, with the torch passed to a much less talented and more scandal-plagued Hillary Clinton. Obama and Romney were well-matched as devoted husbands and ethically sound politicians. In a contest against Clinton, Romney looks much better by comparison. Furthermore, ObamaCare is no longer the defining issue of the election, and Romney can run as the man to reform the reform, not revoke it.
Jeb Bush's strategy of scaring off the field frightened no one, except Romney. Bush's last name and his other weaknesses have prevented him from consolidating financial and political support from the old guard of the party. Instead of getting his desired head-to-head fight with an insurgent social conservative like Rick Santorum, he is being dragged into the clown car.
Scott Walker was supposed to be the conservative movement's candidate, one that could become a consensus candidate. Here was the man to unite the party. Here was a warrior who defeated the public sector unions in Wisconsin, and who won three elections in a purple state. Alas, he has caved to Iowa's corn interests, he has shown little knowledge of even the basics of foreign policy, and he has lamely tried to imitate the true alpha in the race, Donald Trump. Instead of being a favorite to win Iowa, his numbers are sagging by the day. Trump stole the parts of his persona that would have helped him in the race, and small-time alternatives like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have stolen his supporters and the interest of conservative movement organs.
Marco Rubio, meanwhile, is prevented from consolidating financial support in his home state of Florida by Bush, who governed the state for two terms. He is also considered too young. Like all the conservatives in the field he is hurt by the rise of Trump. And his previous support for comprehensive immigration reform has not even been used against him yet. It will be, by Trump or Ted Cruz.
The very inability of the Republican establishment to decide on a candidate for the whole party is a sign of the mortal condition of the party's WASP core and the decline of Mainline Protestantism. The Republican Party has for over a century operated with a Brahmin class. It needs a new one.
This is exactly why Romney should do what he hasn't quite dared yet: run as a Mormon, and as himself. Romney, formed deeply by his faith and his successful family life, is a temperamental rather than ideological conservative. He is the product of the Mormon American subculture that is housed in the Mountain West. The culture, ethos, and governance there produces cities where middle class families thrive, and where divorce and dysfunction are low. Socially, if not theologically, Mormons are a modus vivendi between Mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism.
And thus they are a natural successor class to the WASPs in the Republican Party. In fact, they may be an improvement. The Mountain West is a rich source of Republican leaders, a moderating check on the political and ideological excesses of Evangelicalism, and a wellspring of religious sensibility for an American culture that believes in material progress and prefers pro-family sentiment to pro-family doctrine. These are all the features that Mainline Protestant elites brought to the GOP, but in Mormon America they are combined with a frontier-style relish for competition and entrepreneurship, and a more exalted view of family formation. Mormons are America's more adventurous gentry class.
Trump thrives in the chaos of a party that has no natural class of leaders. He is an anti-hero who has crippled the candidates who would have hurt Mitt Romney with their ideological attacks. Trump's rise is enough to scare the party's WASPs and its donor class into conceding real leadership to Romney in this race and beyond.
The time is now. For his party's future, for his family's sense of destiny, and for the honor of his church and the Mormon culture it fosters, it's time for Romney 2016.