Opinion

How Mitt Romney can still take down Donald Trump

#NeverTrump needs a hero. Mitt's their man.

Here's how bad the 2016 presidential race has gotten for the many conservatives who are repulsed by the terrible choices of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: They're hoping Mitt Romney runs for president.

Romney, you may recall, tried to run for the Republican nomination as the conservative candidate in 2008 and fizzled out. Then the former moderate governor of Massachusetts was the establishment candidate many conservatives bitterly opposed in 2012. Maybe the third time's the charm.

#NeverTrump conservatives certainly seem to hope so. National Review is running op-eds calling Romney the "only man who can save us from future calamity." Even influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson thinks the time has come for Romney 2016.

"I can't believe I'm even writing this," Erickson admitted.

Well, believe it. When it comes to identifying a conservative third-party candidate, the #NeverTrump cupboard is nearly bare. Ballot deadlines loom. Trump is starting to consolidate Republican voters and is suddenly competitive with Clinton in the polls.

The other candidates floated all had a dilemma: They risked doing too poorly in November to effect the outcome of the election, and thus looking weak, or doing well enough to be seen as the Ralph Nader of the right who helped Clinton win. For candidates with future political ambitions, neither is an appealing prospect.

Romney avoids both these problems. He probably isn't planning a political future past 2016, yet he still has the name recognition and network of support to have a real impact. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that the 2012 Republican nominee could win 22 percent of the vote in a three-way race against Clinton and Trump this year, including 27 percent of young voters.

Most conservative third-party boosters don't just want to play spoilers. They would like to deny both major party candidates a majority in the Electoral College and throw the election into the (presumably still Republican-controlled) House. That's likely too tall an order, since it would require denying Clinton electoral votes as well as Trump. But Romney offers conservatives a better chance of anyone they are realistically going to get.

In fact, at this late date, Romney may be the only candidate who can realistically do it at all, unless conservatives can find another Mark Cuban-type billionaire. And even a billionaire might not be able to pull it off. The draft Ross Perot movement was well underway in 1991 and he was already surging nationally by this time in 1992.

Romney is the candidate who is best positioned to jump in at the last minute and actually compete with Trump and Clinton. So what's the problem? Well, Romney is also the worst possible symbol for anti-Trump conservatives.

The toughest remaining pockets of anti-Trump resistance within the GOP aren't really moderate Republicans, among whom the billionaire actually performed well in the primaries, but movement conservatives. Romney isn't a movement conservative, although he is more influenced by them than Trump, and would probably fare best in November by running as an explicit centrist this time around.

Romney is nothing if not a creature of the establishment. If Trump loses to Clinton and Romney, Trump can plausibly claim to be a victim of establishment sabotage. Come 2020, the conservatives who backed a Romney third-party bid will have long been blamed for giving the country a second President Clinton.

#NeverTrump is best vindicated by Trump collapsing in the general election on his own, without conservatives backing Romney or anyone else, or by Trump actually being elected and being a bad president. Principled opponents of Trump naturally would like to avoid the second scenario and think the first is too great a risk.

If Clinton wins with Romney taking a significant share of the vote, Trump's sins will quickly be forgotten and she will become the focus of all conservative ire — as well as those on the right who (arguably) enabled her.

The most anti-Trump conservatives I know would consider that a price worth paying for keeping the reality TV star out of the White House. And many would harbor at least some hopes that Romney could actually win.

Thus the real question is whether Mitt Romney, coming off a massive loss to Barack Obama just four years ago, agrees on either count.

#NeverTrump is counting on him.

More From...

Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III
Read All
Biden could cement the GOP position on intervention over Ukraine
President Biden.
Talking Points

Biden could cement the GOP position on intervention over Ukraine

How 2024 might look like 1992
Ron DeSantis.
Talking Points

How 2024 might look like 1992

Ukraine, Russia, and the problem of the Cold War lens
Vladimir Putin.
Talking Points

Ukraine, Russia, and the problem of the Cold War lens

Democrats and Republicans' wearying waiting games
Donkeys and elephants.
Talking Points

Democrats and Republicans' wearying waiting games

Recommended

Nancy Pelosi says she's running for re-election
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
2022 watch

Nancy Pelosi says she's running for re-election

Ukrainian defense minister says Russian invasion not imminent
Volodymyr Zelensky
'no need to have your bags packed'

Ukrainian defense minister says Russian invasion not imminent

U.S. working to cut NATO Europe's reliance on Russian oil and gas
Nord Stream 2 pipeline
gassing up the homies

U.S. working to cut NATO Europe's reliance on Russian oil and gas

Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper to retire
Rep. Jim Cooper
another one bites the dust

Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper to retire

Most Popular

Senate candidate J.D. Vance says 'our country's kind of a joke'
J.D. Vance
ba dum tssss

Senate candidate J.D. Vance says 'our country's kind of a joke'

Stephen Colbert's Late Show ropes Peppa Pig into Peloton's dead TV character mess
Peppa Pig
'Daddy Pig Gets a Peloton'

Stephen Colbert's Late Show ropes Peppa Pig into Peloton's dead TV character mess

Russian threat complicates Olympics for Ukrainian athletes
Ukrainian athletes at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo
war games

Russian threat complicates Olympics for Ukrainian athletes