Meanwhile, consider events in the past week:
- Polls consistently show Clinton and Trump are historically unique — in their unfavorability ratings.
- Trump is going to spend weeks trying to drag Clinton into the gutter with everything from Vince Foster conspiracy-mongering to irrelevant allegations about Bill Clinton’s past. And the media seems determined to follow it all, giving Trump the bandwidth he craves. (Jake Tapper is the rare journalist to excoriate Trump for talking nonsense.)
- Trump refuses to release his taxes, suggesting a potential bombshell. His campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski assures us he has paid the lowest possible rate. That would be zero, no comfort to Republicans who fear what else is in those returns.
- Desire for a third candidate is astronomically high.
- Trump attacks the popular Hispanic governor of New Mexico and Republican Governors’ Association chair Susana Martinez.
- Audio of Trump licking his chops over the prospect in 2006 of a housing crash comes to light.
- Without running a single ad or declaring his candidacy, Mitt Romney draws 22 percent in a three-way race. (In several polls, Libertarian Gary Johnson siphons off 10 percent.)
Are we back to a Dick Cheney-type scenario, where the guy leading a search turns out to be the guy for the job? In addition to all the factors above, Romney has the lawyers to get on state ballots, a fundraising network and expertise on foreign policy. As Ross Douthat observes, Romney is the “right-leaning technocrat-cum-‘safe hand.'”
The resistance to Romney among more conservative #NeverTrump advocates is fading, if only because of a lack of an alternative and a newfound appreciation for the importance of character and simple decency. Erick Erickson, one of the leaders of the third-candidate search, wrote recently, “I opposed Romney in 2008 and 2012, but I think the time has come for Mitt Romney. I’d gladly work for a Romney Presidency given the choices between Clinton and Trump.” He added, “I can’t believe I’m even writing this. But seriously, Mitt Romney should run for President again and transcend party for the good of the country.”
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From Romney’s point of view, he would enjoy an abbreviated campaign (June to November instead of two years) and need not outrun GOP opponents to win over the far-right base. Expectations would be low, so any positive outcome (relegating Trump to third place, holding the House or Senate) would be widely appreciated. And of course, he’d be running against two of the most disliked politicians on the planet. (He would also have, by leaps and bounds, the most effective and likable spouse of the presidential candidates.)
Will he do it? He cannot say there are better people to take the plunge; he’s learned firsthand how impossible it is to get politicians to take a leap into the unknown. (Never has the adage that 90 percent of life is showing up been more accurate.) And there is no political figure more motivated by old-fashioned values such as sacrifice, honor and duty than Romney. I’ll put the odds at 55-45 he will do it. With each Trump inanity and new poll showing how much voters want another option, the odds tick up ever so slightly in favor of a run.