Romney’s Anti-Endorsement

Romney’s Anti-Endorsement

It’s early in the 2016 presidential campaign season, but it’s still possible for a potential candidate to generate an enormous amount of press with just a few words.

Last week, it was Governor Romney’s definitive declaration that he was not going to take a third run at the Oval Office. His withdrawal announcement wasn’t as dramatically and succinctly framed as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected,” or President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party.” Indeed, for all of its decisiveness, it was distinctly un-Shermanesque.

Perhaps that’s because, unlike the famous (or infamous) general, Governor Romney seems to wish that things were different. In his announcement, he listed all of the advantages he had and the early successes of his exploratory efforts. Indeed, he sounded confident of his chances for success, properly moderated by an acknowledgment of potential serious competition from others.

This expressed confidence may be a matter of pride . . . and I’ll willingly grant him that. Whatever my preferred outcome in Romney’s prior runs may have been, I acknowledge the intelligence, hard work and passionate commitment to this country that are evident in Governor’s Romney’s political career.

But it also may have been a rhetorical strategy to make a rather different point.

Governor Romney’s withdrawal drew a lot of attention. It clearly has a profound effect on the campaign landscape going forward.

But his rationale was surprising and stirred no small amount of press discussion. As already noted, it wasn’t about chances of success. Nor was it the familiar “I want to spend more time with my family” explanation that almost universally is used by politicians who, often for other reasons, choose to withdraw from public life.

Instead, what Governor Romney offered as his rationale was a desire to clear the field for new blood. He spoke of not wanting to make things harder for certain other candidates who might consider a run. The framing of that statement is interesting:

I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case. 

Hmmm . . . I wonder which current candidates or potential candidates fail that litmus test?

Back when I was involved in electoral politics, what potential or one-time candidates did to play a public role in an election was to endorse a candidate. By name.

But, for whatever reason, the governor was more interested in alluding to the type of candidate we should be looking for. By clear implication, he also was interested in declaring himself opposed to the “usual suspects,” to nearly anyone whose name is familiar to Americans.

In a way, the governor’s anti-endorsement may sting more than if he had endorsed a candidate by name. We all have been passed over, in one context or another, for someone else. Often, if we are willing to set aside our pride, we can understand what it was that the other person brought to the table that we did not. We still may disagree with the decision, but at least we can acknowledge the difference.

But to be passed over for a vaguely described, unnamed candidate . . . ouch.

I don’t know Governor Romney personally, but I’m guessing there probably was a degree of the personal in that anti-endorsement. Such is politics. More generally, such are we.