Washington Watch: Yesterday's news is tomorrow's candidate

Guess who's running for president in 2012?

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
If you're already suffering from campaign fatigue and it's only February, you won't like this bit of news: the first hat was just tossed in the ring for the 2012 campaign. Mitt Romney served notice to conservatives last Thursday that he is "suspending" this year's campaign but not quitting until Sen. John McCain's nomination becomes official at the Twin Cities convention in September. Until then, he's reportedly hanging on to his delegates, ready to step in if McCain, who he has called too liberal for the Republican party, stumbles badly. IN THE meantime, look for him to keep a high profile like Ronald Reagan did after losing his first bid for the GOP nomination in 1976. If Democrats win in November the buzz is that he might seek the chair of the Republican National Committee; that would give him a national platform to speak out as well as an opportunity to strengthen his political base. But that strategy will prove wishful thinking unless Romney can sell GOP voters on the idea that he is on their political wavelength and not just a rich opportunist. Romney would have us believe he dropped out "because I love America," but it wasn't patriotism, it was math. He didn't have the delegates nor a chance to get the number needed despite spending upwards of $50 million of his children's inheritance. He stepped aside, he sanctimoniously intoned, for party and country because not doing so could mean the next president would be Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton, and by Romney's calculation, that would be "aiding a surrender to terror" and "retreat in the face of evil extremism." A shocked crowd at the Conservative Political Action Committee convention in Washington last week was sorry to see him go, but not Jewish Republicans, who were strongly backing McCain. If Romney wants Jewish support for 2012, he will have to do a much better job of building relations with the community, said a well-placed Jewish Republican activist. Their problem is with Romney's reliability and his religion, he said. Romney, who was a liberal governor of Massachusetts, made a 180 degree turn to the right to run for president and many Republicans, not just Jews, worry might make another 180 if it serves his interests and ambitions. ROMNEY WENT to Israel last year with his top Jewish supporter, former Amb. Mel Sembler, a leader of the Republican Jewish Coalition who wrote about it for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Sembler gave no insights into Romney's possible Mideast policy, only that he takes a "pragmatic approach to problem solving." The former governor's Mormonism "is definitely making Jews a little itchy, especially the notion of posthumously baptizing ancestors and aggressively proselytizing," said a source at a conservative think tank who follows Republican politics closely. Republican Jews are particularly sensitive to this because while relatively few in number, many are Orthodox. That skepticism about Mormonism is shared by the public at large. A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found about 25 percent of Americans would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon, but only 11 percent said that about Jews. Three quarters of those surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of Jews (same as Catholics, more than Evangelicals), while only 53 percent felt that way about Mormons. Romney's biggest problem was his failure to connect with young voters, middle- and lower-middle class voters, independents, Hispanics and evangelicals, according to polls. He had spent millions on consultants as he "molded himself" to fit "the contours of the Republican coalition," wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks, but that expensive makeover produced dismal results in the primaries. He looked artificial next to McCain, the authentic hero. It was clear the two didn't care much for each other - in fact, people on the campaign trail reported that Romney didn't get along well with any of his rivals, although they got on well with each other. In his CPAC speech, Romney repeatedly invoked the name of the Republican deity, Ronald Reagan, declaring himself the logical heir on issues like taxes, limited government, national security and individual liberties. But he failed to convince the Republican rank and file, the party leadership - or Republican Jews - of that inheritance. Romney will be 65 in 2012; that's four years younger than Ronald Reagan was when he came back after his failed 1976 campaign to win the White House four years later. He may believe he can follow Reagan's path to political resurrection - but that effort will be futile unless he can convince the Republican faithful he is genuinely one of them and unless he can educate GOP voters that his Mormonism is not an impediment to a successful candidacy - or to being an effective president. With McCain in the 2008 driver's seat, Romney has four years to find out whether his political future is behind him.