A Mitt Romney-Jeb Bush Brawl Will Divide The GOP Establishment And Help The Tea Party

Mitt Romney, not one to quit while he’s ahead, took polls placing him at the front of the GOP presidential pack at face value and decided to run for president again. Departing from his repeated denials of interest in seeking the office for a third time, Romney informed a “senior Republican” that he “almost certainly will” run, the Washington Post reported on Monday. Last Friday, he told a group of important GOP donors in no uncertain terms: “I want to be president,” signaling that they should get ready to open their wallets.

Reaction within the GOP has been far from enthusiastic. The GOP establishment and party “moderates” have not been quick to embrace their old standard-bearer. Case in point, straight from the Wall Street Journal editorial page: “The question the former Massachusetts Governor will have to answer is why he would be a better candidate than he was in 2012. The answer is not obvious.” Indeed, it is hard to see why a candidate that Americans see as un-relatable, unprincipled and only out to benefit his 1%, plutocrat friends deserves a third shot at the presidency. No, blaming it all on economic growth leading up to the 2012 election (for which he, of course, gives President Obama no credit) won’t cut it. Widespread criticism aside, Romney has enough fundraising clout and name recognition (the main reason for his place at the top of the polls) to make him a serious 2016 contender despite the reservations of pretty much everyone.

One might expect grassroots, Tea Party conservatives, who fiercely opposed the “Massachusetts moderate” last time around, to oppose another Romney run with special vehemence. However, many on the far right look with favor on the notion of another Romney campaign, which is sure to divide the GOP establishment. Betsy Woodruff of Slate compiled a few telling reactions to Romney’s announcement from grassroots conservatives. “This is going to be corporatist on corporatist crime,” said Steve Deace, a respected conservative radio host from Iowa. “And whenever corporatist blood gets spilled, we all win.”

Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Chris Christie, to name only the biggest names, draw from an overlapping web of donors and big business interests like the Chamber of Commerce. The overwhelming cash advantage that any one establishment candidate would hold over the Tea Party is diminished if Wall Street, big energy and other key donors place their green eggs in different baskets. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a weakened state owing to Bridgegate, New Jersey’s struggling economy and concerns about his fiery temperament, a reluctant Jeb Bush’s decision to dip his toe in the water raised the prospect of an establishment favorite early on. Romney’s reemergence ensures that this won’t happen, at least not yet.

This is good news for grassroots favorites like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who will have a bigger opening to generate enthusiasm and court donors as the establishment titans (known to harbor not-so-fond feelings for each other) duke it out. Things could get even more dicier if less established but nonetheless formidable candidates like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker enter the fray, provided they can make a strong, distinct impression in a crowded field.

Hardcore conservatives may never love Mitt Romney, but they could have reason to thank him come the primaries. As Chris Bedford of the Daily Caller puts it: “A three-way battle for the soul of the [establishment] GOP? For its money, consultants, and votes? Good news, we think.”

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