With 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s announcement that he will not pursue the 2016 presidential nomination, the conservative grassroots may be celebrating. They thought of Romney as a political squish, a flip-flopper, the creator of Romneycare, and the blunderer of “the 47 percent.”
They shouldn’t celebrate too soon. The person happiest to see Romney go is a political squish, a key supporter of Common Core, a fan of amnesty for illegal immigrants, and a basher of the base. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush must be grinning ear-to-ear this morning.
The latest poll from Fox News shows Romney clocking in at 21 percent, with Mike Huckabee and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) tied at 11 percent; Jeb Bush runs fourth at 10 percent. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who wowed crowds in Iowa over the weekend, draws 8 percent, while Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), an establishment favorite with Tea Party ties, draws just 5 percent. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Texas Governor Rick Perry both draw 4 percent, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal clocking in at a negligible 2 percent.
Without Romney, Jeb Bush jumps to 15 percent, with Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee trailing at 13 percent. Jeb’s also got all the money. Bush likely jumped into the race earlier than expected – he announced in December 2014 – in order to preclude Romney from running. By sucking up all the coastal donors, Bush prevented Romney from gaining momentum among those who matter most: the establishment types who backed him to the hilt in 2012. Just eight days ago, Romney met with Bush in Utah to discuss the presidential race. Just over a week later, Romney is out, and coastal donors’ choice has now come down to Jeb Bush and the largely-discredited Chris Christie, who now trails badly in polls.
The conservative base, meanwhile, splits a thousand ways. Walker has momentum for the moment, but Cruz has a significant ground operation in Iowa. Paul has his father’s base and a strong libertarian appeal in New Hampshire. Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 and could pose a threat in South Carolina as well.
And Jeb? All he has to do is run competitive in New Hampshire – where Bush currently leads slightly – hope that Iowa and South Carolina go to a largely underfunded candidate like Mike Huckabee (or better yet, split), and then win Florida in a walk. This is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s firewall strategy from 2008, except that Jeb won’t abandon New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney did the right thing by stepping out of the race; he’s an old face, and he had his shot in 2012. By getting out, he opens the door to other candidates. Unfortunately, the candidate he may have most boosted is the man who most resembles him politically, to the consternation of conservatives across the country.