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Viewpoints
Debra Saunders
Romney has done enough for Republicans
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Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews he thinks that Mitt Romney will run for president in 2016 and that “he will be the next president of the United States.” The former Massachusetts governor lost the GOP primary in 2008 and then the general election in 2012. What would his 2016 slogan be, “the third time’s a charm”?

Former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough urged fellow attendees at Romney’s now annual GOP summit last month to join the draft movement. More than 50,000 have signed a “Draft Mitt” petition. Onetime Romney aide Emil Henry wrote “The Case for Mitt Romney in 2016” in Politico. Only Romney, he argued, can “roll into any major money center like New York, Los Angeles or Houston and mobilize his fundraisers on demand.”

I think Romney ran a solid campaign in 2012. Like 45 percent of respondents to a Quinnipiac poll, I believe that America would be better off today with Romney in the Oval Office. And I relish the debate in which Hillary Clinton and Romney find themselves agreeing ardently that a couple can own two mansions and still be “dead broke.”

But if Romney is thinking of running in 2016 (and he says he is not), my advice would be to stay home – or, more precisely, in one of his homes. Stay in the house with the elevator to the cars. Don’t give New York Times columnist Gail Collins an excuse to resurrect Seamus, the family dog relegated to a crate on the roof of a vacation-bound family car in 1983.

Republicans remember Romney fondly. If he keeps running, he risks turning into another Newt Gingrich, a Republican who doesn’t know when to exit the stage.

Insiders tell me that if Jeb Bush were not to get in the race, Romney would be the front-runner by default. There are two problems with that thinking. First, though Bush was a fine governor of Florida, he hasn’t won a campaign since he was re-elected in 2002. Like Romney, who won an election in 2002, Bush represents the past. Second, party leaders and big donors may want to be kingmakers – hence their rush to declare a front-runner – but that’s what voters are supposed to do.

I confess that the 2012 primary was for me slow torture. It didn’t help that once insiders declared Romney the front-runner, there followed an ugly slog to elevate the Republican who could beat him. I am in no hurry to repeat the freak show – especially when there are so many interesting Republicans with gravitas. Think New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rob Portman and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky may look in the mirror and hear “Hail to the Chief.”

All Romney and his big money can do is chase strong rivals out of the race. When that happens, the party gets stuck with leftovers like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and the Newter – candidates who just want to hog the spotlight, not build the party. For 2016, think Dr. Ben Carson.

In the end, the contest didn’t help Romney, either. Forced to move ever rightward, Romney shied away from his tenure as a competent, moderate Massachusetts governor. He can’t go home again.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.
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