Will: Third time won't be a charm for Mitt Romney

George Will
Washington Post

After his third loss, in 1908, as the Democratic presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan enjoyed telling the story of the drunk who three times tried to enter a private club. After being tossed out into the street a third time, the drunk said: "They can't fool me. Those fellows don't want me in there!"

Mitt Romney might understandably think that a third try would have a happy ending in a successful presidency.

In 1948, when Democrats considered offering their presidential nomination to Dwight Eisenhower, the former and future Democratic speaker of the house, taciturn Sam Rayburn, said of Eisenhower: "Good man, but wrong business." Two landslide elections and an admirable presidency proved that Rayburn was spectacularly mistaken, but he was right that not every good man is good at every business. Romney lost a winnable race in 2012.

The nation was mired in a disappointing recovery, upward mobility had stalled and the incumbent president's signature achievement was unpopular and becoming more so. President Barack Obama was between the seismic repudiations of 2010 and 2014. Running against Romney, Obama became the first president to win a second term with smaller percentages of both the popular and electoral votes. He got 3.6 million fewer votes, and a lower percentage of the electoral vote.

If it seemed likely that the Republican field of candidates for 2016 would be unimpressive, this would provide a rationale for Romney redux. But markets work, and America's electoral system is a reasonably well-functioning political market.

For all the flaws of a nominating process that begins with Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, those states do not require immediate substantial financial muscle, and they reward retail campaigning, allowing lesser-known and underfunded candidates can break through. Furthermore, campaign finance laws designed to limit competition are, fortunately, porous enough to allow a few wealthy contributors to enable marginal candidates to be heard.

In the six presidential elections beginning in 1992, Democratic candidates have averaged 327 electoral votes, Republicans just 211. Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six and have not won a decisive popular vote victory since 1988.

And no candidate before Romney lost while winning 59 percent of the white vote, which was almost 90 percent of his support. George H.W. Bush won about that portion in 1988 but captured 426 electoral votes. Romney got just 206. The white portion of the vote has shrunk 15 points to 72 percent in the six presidential elections since 1992. With the fastest-growing ethnic group, Asian-Americans, Romney did even worse (21 percent) than he did with Hispanics (27 percent).

George Will writes for The Washington Post.