Jennifer Rubin: Is it time to ask Romney to run?

There is demand for a third candidate. The unprecedented unfavorability of the two major parties’ front-runners creates an opportunity. And yet the #NeverTrump forces have gotten close but have so far failed to recruit a candidate. Both retired general James Mattis, former CIA director and defense secretary Robert Gates and former senator Tom Coburn , R-Okla., have publicly said no while other potential candidates have said so privately, according to those involved in the search. A spokesman for Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., remarked that “he has three little kids and the only callings he wants [are] raising them and serving Nebraskans,” which falls short of a definitive no.

Maybe Sasse can be persuaded to run or another contender could be recruited. It’s distressing to see so many leaders putting other concerns (e.g. long-term viability) ahead of self-sacrifice (which a third candidate’s run surely would be). You do wonder whether we have a generation of pols who lack imagination or courage. Alternatively, Donald Trump has opened the door to a nontraditional candidate (e.g. businessman, philanthropist, military officer, diplomat).

So when does the search turn to Mitt Romney? Conservatives, even those not all that enamored of him in 2012, are beginning to entertain that possibility. He’s no outsider, but he has accomplished plenty in both the private and public spheres, and he is a thoroughly decent human being. In other words, he is the anti-Trump and the anti-Clinton candidate. A Post-ABC poll shows him drawing 22 percent in a hypothetical three-way race. He knows how to debate and has a fundraising network. He has virtually 100 percent name ID. He reportedly does not want to run, but I have trouble believing that he’d reject a plea if no one else steps forward.

If he did run, he’d be wise to run as a center-right candidate, as he governed in Massachusetts, and as a fixer. No more genuflecting to the far right (many of whom have shown themselves to be thoroughly hypocritical in backing non-conservative Trump). He might also consider a promise to serve one term, which would please all the other candidates and their followers who are already planning a 2020 race. As for his VP, Romney could choose someone else who’d pledge not to run for president, thereby giving the rest of the party a do-over in 2020.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Romney is, after all, the definitive turnaround specialist. He could run on just four things: a bipartisan pro-growth package; restore the military and U.S. credibility in the world; House Speaker Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty approach; and a workable plan to fix entitlements. Nothing should be off the table other than any additional burdens on lower- and middle-class workers.

Romney is not ideal, but the GOP passed ideal in March. Romney is a plausible, qualified grown-up. Again, that would set him apart in the field. And perhaps the liabilities he had in 2012 could be avoided: No cumbersome campaign behemoth, don’t hide his philanthropy, dump the focus on the entrepreneur (at the expense of the workers) and offer a rational tone on immigration (legal immigration is a necessary part of a pro-growth plan). Despite all the hullabaloo about his business background in the 2012 race, and all those Obama ads, nothing was ever found that was remotely disqualifying. And this time the Democrats’ target (rightly so) for business results and practices will be Trump.

Romney has not been the first, second or even 10th choice of most Republicans. However, it’s time for other contenders to fish or cut bait. And if the #NeverTrump folks cannot reel in another contender, it’s time to go to a stable, knowledgeable candidate with an impeccable family life. “Yeah, that’ll never work,” you say? Maybe there will be an outbreak of common sense on the center-right. That’d be novel.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.