By Darragh Roche
What ever happened to Thomas Dewey? If you’ve never heard of him, it might be useful to look into him. His name will probably start cropping up in the next few months. Mitt Romney, the man who lost the 2012 US presidential election to Barack Obama, looks like he’s planning to pull a Dewey and run a second time. Moderate Republicans have rejoiced at the news.
Romney, former Massachusetts governor and America’s most famous Mormon, told some serious fundraisers that he’s considering a run in 2016. This confirms much speculation since his defeat just over two years ago. Romney has made many appearances in conservative media and he consistently polls highly among Republicans. Mounting a campaign, however, will not be as easy as it was in 2012 (and it wasn’t all that easy then). Going into the last round of presidential primaries, Romney was already king-in-waiting. His anointing was delayed by a cohort of crackpots and the significant influence of the Tea Party. But following a series of contradictory polls, the Republican electorate ditched the candidates who obviously couldn’t win, and chose boring, sensible but competitive Mitt Romney.
The parallels with Thomas Dewey are striking. The front runner going into the 1944 Republican primaries, Dewey eventually lost the presidential race to incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dewey also faced a GOP with plenty of conspiracy theorists – some believed Roosevelt had known in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor (chillingly similar to today’s 9/11 conspiracies). When Dewey ran again in 1948, he was a moderate choice faced with a much more conservative GOP congress and beat off more challengers. Romney will have to do the same if he hopes to win nomination for a second time. Romney faces the added threat of Jeb Bush, son of one president and brother of another, Bush is a moderate who is popular with the Republican base. Romney will once again have to run to the right if he wants to win over the hard-right, anti-tax grassroots.
The national picture seems to favour another Democrat in the White House. Hillary Clinton is the most popular politician in the country (if you exclude her husband, who can’t be president again). And she will benefit from Bill’s popularity and an almost mythologised fondness for the ’90s. The Republicans face an uphill struggle and a contentious round of primaries and GOP debates won’t help their image among swing voters or crucial minorities. With Tea Party darling Ted Cruz probably in the race and libertarian Rand Paul potentially adding his name to the mix, debates will be interesting to say the least. The most extreme options, like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, most likely out of the running, Romney won’t be able to just wait around for the fringe to drop off.
Romney would do well to remember his Republican predecessor, Thomas Dewey. Dewey lost both times out, despite fighting hard to win his party’s nomination. He was a moderate who appealed to the middle and distanced himself from the radical parts of the country. Even the mainstream media were calling the election for Dewey right up until the end. Now, hardly anyone even recognises his name.