This could get ugly.

Photographer: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Romney's Road Gets Even Muddier

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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There's yet more evidence that Mitt Romney’s third White House campaign may be dead on arrival.  

The latest is new reporting that a top Romney Iowa operative from 2008 and 2012 has jumped to Jeb Bush and that many Romney donors from the last cycle have moved to Bush. This follows previous articles on the lack of enthusiasm among Romney’s former supporters in New Hampshire and his former top donors.

That’s … not good.

The basic story about Romney, as it was with John McCain before him, continues to be that he won the nomination in 2012 not by being popular with the party, but by being barely acceptable to just enough Republicans.  

What was notable in both 2008 and 2012 was that no viable Republican candidates showed up who checked off all the normal conservative boxes -- guns, abortion, taxes and the rest of it. Almost every otherwise viable candidate had problems in one or more policy areas with important party groups. Those who didn’t, mainly Rick Perry in 2012 and Fred Thompson in 2008, couldn’t manage to put together competent campaigns.

The weak fields in 2008 and 2012 had partly to do with Democratic landslides in 2006 and 2008 -- they discouraged some people from running. In 2008, there was also the (accurate) perception that the Republican nomination wasn’t worth much, with outgoing President George W. Bush already very unpopular during the early stages of the nomination contest.  

Another factor might have been the increasingly uncompromising demands by some groups, making it hard to find someone to satisfy everyone.

But 2016 isn't 2012. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal, for example, might not be ideal in every way, but they and others give Republicans a half-dozen or more solid options. It’s a strong, deep field.

It's too early to lump the Mittster in with failed reprises of the past such as Eugene McCarthy in 1972, George McGovern in 1984 or Gary Hart’s post-scandal campaign in 1988. But one thing's for sure: If Romney's entry into the race earlier this month was essentially a bluff -- showing willingness to accept an easy nomination and hoping he would empty the pool -- it’s been a failure.  

The best case for him at this point is that he’s on more or less even footing with several other candidates. Even then I’d rank him lower than most. His chances of becoming an embarrassment are considerably higher than his chances of becoming president. This doesn’t mean he’ll drop out (his chances of becoming president drop to zero that way). But it does mean that, unless he has lost touch with reality again, he’ll only continue if he’s willing to risk enduring humiliation.  

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