What better way for Mitt Romney to exact his revenge against the man that beat him in 2012 than to work to ensure that Republicans retake the Senate? The midterm elections, Robert Costa writes at The Washington Post, are giving Romney a chance to try on the mantle of party leader. Or, put in Simpsons terms: Remember Mitt Romney? He's back, in party elder form.
Losing a presidential race can be freeing, apparently, as Bob Dole indicated in a famous essay for the Post in 2012. Romney is in a particularly good position: wealthy, energetic, and certainly enjoying that President Obama's second term has not gone terribly well so far. "I think there is an enormous sense of buyer’s remorse," Romney 2012 finance chair Spencer Zwick told Costa, "that he was right on Russia and a whole range of issues. I believe if the election were held today, he would win." Obama's low popularity means that he's not exactly embraced on the campaign trail. Romney, as the unfettered and unaccountable anti-Obama, certainly is.
"[W]ith the two living former Republican presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — shying away from campaign politics," Costa writes, "Romney, 67, has begun to embrace the role of party elder." (We will note: The reasons the Bushes are "shying away" vary dramatically.) One friend of Romney's reinforced the subtext to that description: Romney wants to be the elder of the establishment Republican party, the "anti-Jim DeMint." He's assured fans that he's not running for president — and why would he? With the party elder strategy, he gets all of the benefit of prestige and power, while setting the terms under which he doles them out.
Given that he's explicitly working to bolster the GOP establishment, some conservatives aren't happy about his reemergence. Costa quotes L. Brent Bozell of the conservative group ForAmerica: "I hope he’s not trying to advance himself or his moderate philosophy." The slice of America where Romney's welcome to get involved seems somewhat narrow. Conservatives in South Carolina haven't reached out; John Kasich, the Republican governor running for reelection in Ohio, digitally erased a Romney sign visible in a photo on his campaign site. (Kasich was happy to keep the Romney crowd visible, however.)
It's likely that Romney's opportunity to play this role will be short-lived. In another two years, the party will have a new leader, the person chosen to represent Republicans in November 2016. Romney (and his money) will still have a role, but a smaller one. So if he wants to be the president that a-bit-shy-of-half-of-American-voters always wanted, he has about seven months to make the most of it.