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Column: The Return of Mitt Romney

FILE - Former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 15, 2013.

Maybe the third time is the charm.

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, reportedly told donors at a meeting in New York recently that he is seriously considering another run for the White House in 2016.

This comes on the heels of aggressive moves by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to line up fundraisers and organize staff as he explores a presidential bid of his own.

Two other Republican governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, also appear on the verge of jumping into what now looks to be a crowded field of GOP presidential contenders that will develop in the months ahead.

A lot of experts thought Romney was done and that there was no way his family would support another run, especially once Bush began to signal his interest.
But Romney apparently still has that ‘fire in the belly’ that drove him in a losing nomination battle with John McCain in 2008 and helped him win the party nomination in 2012 in a divisive and crowded Republican primary field.

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If Romney, Bush and Christie all run there will be a real glut of so-called establishment Republicans vying for votes in the primaries.

That will provide openings for candidates who have the backing of the Tea Party and social conservative activists who will be looking for an alternative to mainstream Republican candidates.

Republican primary contests usually feature several social conservative candidates who divvy up the conservative vote and that often leads to an advantage for mainstream candidates like former President George W. Bush, McCain and Romney.

Although no one has officially announced their intention to run yet, you can expect conservative senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky to battle for Tea Party support.

Social conservatives should also have plenty of choices including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who finished second to Romney in the 2012 primaries, and newcomer Ben Carson, the only African-American in the prospective field.

The interest among all the well-known Republican contenders could make it difficult for other newcomers to make an impact on the field such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

But Republican strategist Phillip Stutts said his party will benefit from a large presidential field with some familiar names.

“We are going to have smart candidates that talk big policy ideas that can change this country in ways that I am very excited about, and we don’t need to restrict that,” he said.

Republican Scot Faulkner, who has worked for Republican presidents and for the Republicans in Congress, said conservatives may be looking for new faces that can articulate a compelling vision to the public and deliver on it.

Like many conservatives, he would love to have the reincarnation of former President Ronald Reagan to lead the Republican Party to victory in 2016. But so far he’s not seeing it.

“You have to find someone like that who talks beyond themselves and inspires other people to think beyond themselves and right now I just see a whole bunch of egos out there with big wallets,” Faulkner said.

Republicans seize Congressional agenda

Republicans now have their moment in the spotlight in Washington as they control both houses of Congress.

But the moment could be fleeting and for all the attention likely to be paid to congressional battles this year, the political focus will gradually shift over the next few months to the battle for president in 2016.

House congressional leaders did what they could to signal a new era ahead in the wake of Republican victories last November that gave them a majority in the Senate and bolstered their majority in the House of Representatives.

“The battle of ideas never ends and frankly never should,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “As speaker, all I ask, and frankly expect, is that we disagree without being disagreeable.”

But there were strains right from the start.

Boehner had to overcome 25 fellow Republicans who opposed him becoming speaker, a signal that the tension in recent years between mainstream Republican leaders and Tea Party activists is not going away.

Those strains were also on display in the new Republican-led Senate where the new Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sought to assuage conservative firebrand Senator Cruz of Texas and others that Republicans will be pushing a conservative agenda in Congress in the months ahead.

“The president is not going to set the agenda for us here in the Senate,” McConnell said. “We have an agenda that we believe helps save and create jobs for Americans.”

Obama prepares veto pen

Republicans will focus on energy and the economy in the early weeks of 2015.
They are confident of approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline but the White House quickly signaled a veto threat, something Republicans probably don’t have the votes to override.

This could be the first in a series of veto battles between the new Congress and President Barack Obama in the final two years of his tenure, another sign that the political stalemate in Washington in recent years is about to play out in yet another form.

Obama also vowed to keep open the option of executive action when he feels it’s in the country’s best interest to go around Congress, as he did late last year on immigration reform and climate change.

“Where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it,” he said.

But Republicans have more than partisan congressional battles on their mind.
Now that they have the majority in both chambers, Republicans need to show they can govern to set the stage for the next presidential election, said analyst John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

“What they would like to do is to show that they have a positive vision,” Fortier said. “It is easy in a midterm election to be the “out” [opposition] party and to say it isn’t going well with the Obama administration. What they need for 2016 is really to have a positive vision with a candidate who can run looking to the future in 2016.”

Republican strategist Stutts agreed and said the prospect of a large and qualified Republican presidential field in 2016 should give his party an excellent opportunity to take back the White House.

“Right now, the Republicans in our party whether it be Speaker Boehner or Mitch McConnell, are trying to lay a path down so a Republican can win the presidency in 2016,” Stutts said. “They have to demonstrate something else. They can’t be the party of no. They are the party in power now in the Congress and in the United States Senate.”

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.