“Circumstances can change.” With those words, Mitt Romney unleashed a zillion pixels and hours of cable TV news chatter. In fact, he is not running in 2016, as he let on in an afterthought. That won’t stop the speculation, but as he put it, he had his chance.
Why would he dip a toe in the pool of pre-primary handicapping? He might have, in a moment of weakness, given the media something they have been hounding him for — a ray of light that he might upset the GOP field and hand the Democrats a known and previously beaten opponent. Alternatively, he might have indulged in a moment of ego. It’s not easy to lose a presidential race, and it may be even harder when you were right about so much. In any event, Romney opened the floodgates.
Why are the media so fixated on a Romney repeat? Well, a Romney rerun would give them the chance to replay their robber-baron caricature and remind voters what cold-hearted folks those Republicans are. Romney, in other words, is an easy mark. And he certainly would complicate the plans of centrist governors such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Whatever the reason for the obsession, it’s a typical contrived storyline popular with the media. Get ready for lots of these.
The amount of time and energy spent on reporting what is not going to happen and the people obviously uninterested in running at times will dwarf the reporting on what actually is happening. Granted, it is hard for the media to come up with angles for coverage of an election in which the first primary vote won’t be cast for nearly a year and a half, but it would be productive and useful if they did. And that brings us to a perennial media problem: the refusal of the political press to cover substance, especially foreign policy. That’s a problem when foreign policy is where the real action is and when foreign policy bona fides will be critical in selecting our next president. Instead of covering the non-candidacy of Romney, might the media look at which candidates, for example, have been accurate in their assessment of the Islamic State and which have pretty much sounded like President Obama (i.e. have been out to lunch)? That would involve some interest in and mastery of the foreign policy developments of the past 5 1/2 years. And that’s problematic for many in the media who cover politics as a process devoid of policy or who cling to pols’ self-attached labels rather than analyzing what their views and votes tell us about their worldview.
This will become an acute problem in the media coverage of Hillary Clinton. How many clueless political reporters praised her tenure to the hilt, based on superficial or nonexistent understanding of the crises she allowed to fester or the misplayed moves she undertook? Lots. That will put a burden on the GOP contenders who do have foreign policy expertise to explain what has been going on, what their opponents have been doing and what foresight they can claim in having warned about unfolding events.
Clinton and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose record and views are even more cramped and isolationist than the president’s, are no doubt betting on a lack of media interest in foreign policy. A truly engaged and persistent media would be hassling Clinton on her Iraq claims. (She said it wasn’t the administration’s call to exit Iraq. The president just yesterday boasted that it was and that it was the “right thing” to have done.) Instead of praising Paul as an interesting new trend-setter on foreign policy, they’d point out that he has been the Chauncey Gardiner of foreign policy. His bland generalizations and accusations (e.g. Clinton is a hawk, we are war-weary), combined with his entirely wrongheaded views on the Islamic State and how it has spread like wildfire (it wasn’t from excessive U.S. involvement), aren’t novel or intriguing; they are bizarre and disconnected from reality. But the media won’t be pressing these and other pols on the content of their records or the correctness of their views. No, that would be outside the political press’s narrow focus. No wonder you get “Will Romney run?” stories ad nauseam.