The GOP isn’t over Mitt Romney. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released on Wednesday indicates that 35% of likely Iowa Republican caucus voters would vote for the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential nominee in 2016. Fresh faces like Chris Christie (9%), Ted Cruz (5%) and Rand Paul (5%) didn’t come close. Mike Huckabee (another blast from the past) came in second at 9% and Romney’s 2012 runner-up, Rick Santorum, nabbed 9%. It seems that failed candidates from the GOP’s past are generating more enthusiasm than prospective candidates that are meant to be the party’s future and Mitt Romney, the man Republicans picked only as a last resort in an abysmal field of candidates, leads the pack.
Calls for a 2016 Romney candidacy are nothing new, but the aforementioned poll is bound to add fuel to the fire. Until recently, Romney categorically denied that he would run in 2016. Of late, however, Romney has been less definitive, remarking that “circumstances can change.” So what are these “circumstances?” Mainly the credibility of a competition increasingly marred by scandal and mediocrity. Texas Governor Rick Perry is under indictment on two felony charges, effectively slamming the brakes on an effort to repair his image following a disastrous 2012 campaign. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is under investigation for illegally coordinating with outside groups during his recall election. The dark cloud of Bridgegate hovers over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and will likely remain even if he is never directly linked to the traffic scandal. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has not indicated that he is running. Marco Rubio has failed to make an impression. Ted Cruz appeals only to the GOP base. Rand Paul is slightly more promising, but it is uncertain whether some of his eccentric libertarian positions will fly in a Republican primary. Against this underwhelming backdrop, Mitt Romney doesn’t seem like such an unpalatable option.
Of course, it’s likely that Romney’s support will wither should he attempt a run. As Romney put it, “the unavailable is always the most attractive, right?” It’s difficult to believe the GOP’s far-right Tea Party base will truly warm to a Massachusetts moderate who established a template for Obamacare. He’s certainly not a Koch brothers-friendly candidate. It’s equally difficult to believe that the GOP establishment will give a failed investment like Romney another chance given his baggage. After all, how can Romney expand the GOP’s appeal to key demographics after his “binders full of women” and “self-deportation” blunders? Major donors are very likely asking these questions. In short, the GOP is probably not dumb enough to nominate Romney again despite early polling. Nevertheless, Republicans’ desire for Romney to run again, however temporary, underscores the very real problem of a gaping leadership void. Even when they come to their senses and remember why they never liked Mitt, this problem will still remain.