2016 Elections

The Republican Who Might Have Stopped Trump

Why Mitt Romney had the best chance of saving his party from disaster in 2016.

He had been there before.

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

George Will had a good line the other day about the Trump campaign, which is that it will “simplify the GOP’s quadrennial exercise of writing its post-campaign autopsy, which this year can be published November 9 in one sentence: ‘Perhaps it is imprudent to nominate a venomous charlatan.’” Since he wrote that column, new accusations about sexual misconduct by Trump have reinforced Will’s conclusion that nominating Trump was a moral and political disaster.

But Will left open a question Republican medical examiners need to ask themselves: Why did Republicans nominate this man in the face of red flags the size of Trump Tower? A lot of explanations have been floated, but Republicans have reached no consensus.

Ask Republicans who oppose Trump who should have been the nominee instead, and even after the fact they cannot agree. “Anyone else,” or “anyone else but Ben Carson,” are the typical answers, but “anyone” wasn’t on the ballot. The problem, though, isn’t just that Republicans disagree among themselves about whom they should have backed to stop Trump: It’s also that there’s no obviously correct answer.

Consider the options.

Senator Ted Cruz was always going to have trouble expanding beyond his base of very conservative and evangelical voters. Governor John Kasich was always going to have trouble expanding beyond moderates. Senator Marco Rubio was inevitably going to bleed on both his flanks, with moderate Republicans favoring someone more like Kasich and very conservative Republicans favoring someone more like Cruz. Former Governor Jeb Bush, after the first few weeks of his campaign, was clearly not going to dominate the debate stage the way that Mitt Romney did in the 2012 primaries.

In retrospect, it may be that Romney was the only candidate who could have stopped Trump. Republicans across the spectrum had supported him in 2012, and he still had a lot of goodwill from them at the start of this election cycle.

He was already well known by the public, and would not have had the difficulty getting attention that plagued many of the Republicans who actually ran against Trump. His opposition to an immigration amnesty and his support for a tough stance on trade with China would have weakened Trump’s advantage on both issues.

Romney thought about running but ultimately decided against -- in part because he got panned when he considered it. A lot of people at the time said that he should let new Republican talent come to the fore. I was one of them. Boy, were we wrong.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net

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

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