Believe it or not, this is not a picture of Ronald Reagan.

Photographer: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Only Romney Thinks He's Reagan

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Yeah, this one isn’t gonna fly.

Mitt Romney’s third campaign for the White House got off to a good start … for about three days. The backlash this week came not just from core conservatives, who have never been enthusiastic about the ideological chameleon, but also from just about everyone who isn’t a die-hard Romney supporter. This group includes quite a few mainstream conservatives, according to Washington Post and New York Times reporting.

What is Team Romney's answer to those who say he’s had his chance?

“If that’s the case, then Ronald Reagan never would have become president,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, Mr. Romney’s longtime spokesman. “Reagan ran three times. Mitt learns from experience. If he does run, he will run his strongest campaign yet.”

Yeesh. I can just imagine all the Republican contenders and conservative leaders going all Bentsen on the Mittster, as the Wall Street Journal did today (for those with hazy memories, here is Lloyd Bentsen in the 1988 vice-presidential debate with the definitive rebuff to politicians who reach too high for their comparisons): 

Does Romney really want to die on this hill?

Between Reagan's first (1968) and second (1976) presidential runs, he went from being an inexperienced governor who had given an impressive speech for Barry Goldwater in 1964 to being a successful two-term governor who continued to consolidate his position as leader of the conservative movement. Then, in the run-up to his third try in 1980, Reagan remained the clear conservative leader. A real, influential leader: His attack on the Panama Canal treaties, for example, made opposition to them the standard conservative position.

In other words, Reagan didn’t just get better at running for president. He was a much more impressive politician with far more accomplishments by 1980 than he had been in 1968.

Romney? Not so much.

He first ran for president as a successful one-term governor, although he had to repudiate much of what he had done when he moved to the national stage. He ran for president a second time as a successful one-term governor. He is now running for president yet again as … a successful one-term governor.

As far as I can see, he has done exactly zero to enhance his credentials apart from having now developed extensive experience in running for president. If he has ever been an influential leader among Republicans on any policy position, I’ve clean forgotten about it.

More to the point, no one has rallied to Romney’s side other than his core supporters, and reporters are having no trouble finding 2012 supporters who are willing to distance themselves publicly from his third effort. And not only has no one dropped out of the race in the last week since Romney and Jeb Bush stepped up their efforts, other than the already bearded Paul Ryan, but Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and others are ramping up their own campaigns.

Right now, the odds of Romney’s campaign fizzling out before summer appear to be higher than the odds of his making it to New Hampshire, let alone repeating as the Republicans' presidential nominee.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net