There is one man who can save the Republican Party, and his name is Mitt Romney.
Seven years after Romney crashed and burned in the 2008 Republican primary and three years after he beat a weak GOP presidential field before losing to President Obama, he is still the party’s best hope of winning back the White House.
You don’t have to believe me — just take a look at the current Republican field. Approximately one-third of Republican voters nationwide are giving their support to Donald Trump, a candidate who regularly insults minorities, women, and his fellow Republicans; and one in five are backing Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon turned politician who appears to know little about public policy and even less about the world. That’s half of all GOP voters.
But it’s the performance of the rest of the field that provides Romney with an opening.
Not long ago, Scott Walker was being touted as a top-tier Republican candidate. Today, his campaign is in free fall. He’s scoring around 3 to 4 percent of the vote in Iowa (where he once led in polls) and political reporters are already writing the first drafts of the obituary for his presidential dreams. How about Marco Rubio? He’s doing just a hair better than Walker.
And then there’s the man who is playing the role of “Mitt Romney, establishment candidate” this cycle — Jeb Bush. While he’s raised a ton of money, his poll numbers are still in single digits and his unfavorability rating stands at 52 percent. His campaign is generating no discernible excitement, and he has increasingly found himself in a war of words with Trump — one that he is badly losing.
If none of these candidates can find some way to break from the pack between now and the end of the year — and Trump maintains what is now a two-month lead over the rest of the GOP field — then the opening for Romney will be clear. He might be the only Republican skilled enough at politics and capable of rallying a critical mass of the GOP rank-and-file who can stop Trump’s political ascendancy.
He also might be the one Republican best positioned to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and Clinton is best positioned to rally Democratic voters behind her candidacy. Even with all her troubles, she remains the odds-on favorite to win next year. But Romney would throw some doubt on that likelihood. He’s already shown the ability to run a national campaign. He’s got great name recognition and knows the issues. Not running in the GOP primaries has prevented Romney from taking extreme positions on everything from abortion to immigration that other candidates have been pushed to adopt. His 2012 proposal of self-deporting undocumented immigrants might have been problematic — but it’s still better than ending birthright citizenship. This doesn’t mean Romney would win the presidency, but it does mean he’d likely be more formidable than Bush, Walker, Cruz, or certainly Trump.
To be sure, Romney is hardly a politician extraordinaire. His 2012 campaign was at times a gaffe-filled mess. But compared to the current Republican field, Romney looks like a combination of Ronald Reagan, Jack Kennedy, and Barack Obama. And in a sense, that’s the GOP’s biggest problem. A flawed candidate who has already run and lost twice — and isn’t even running this cycle — might be the Republican’s best hope of stopping Trump and waging a credible campaign for the White House.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.