John Ensign and Mark Sanford are revealing TMI. Sarah Palin is struggling with her state legislature. John Huntsman, Jr. is headed to China. Mike Huckabee is ubiquitous. Haley Barbour is meeting with strategists in smoky back rooms. Tim Pawlenty has to get through the rest of his term.
And Mitt Romney?
Mitt Romney is writing a book. His final draft is due to a publisher by the end of July, and it will hit bookshelves in 2010, right at the time the Republican Party will be settling on a communications strategy for the midterm elections.
Romney and his team are clear about his political future. The door to another presidential race is open, but that would be true regardless of how Romney spends his days. It adds nothing to ask whether Romney will run for president.
The prevailing narrative today is that Romney has risen to the top of the 2012 Invisible Primary because he's the last man standing.
True, Romney hasn't made any obvious mistakes. But his rising standing is a consequence of decisions he's made, and not just a result of the luck.
- Romney is picking and choosing his battles. He shares an Obama-esque disdain for the superficial daily scrum that cable channels whip up. It's a credit to his communications team that he can appear on television once every two or three weeks and seem to be part of the dialog. When Romney has something to say, he'll find a venue to say it. On auto restructuring, on the Republican stimulus plan, on a free market approach to health care, on the Employee Free Choice Act, and on missile defense, Romney matches his opinions to key constituencies, and he always draws respectful news coverage. What's Romney saying about Mark Sanford? Nothing. (Mike Huckabee called into Fox. He's pursuing a different communications strategy.)
- He's not consumed by anger or sarcasm. Romney can get angry, and he can be sarcastic. But his public appearances today are calm, measured; his interviews are given in dignified settings. Romney's political team believes that the public has no appetite for presidential adversaries who are driven by personal dislike. To Romney, this dignifies the office of the presidency.
- He's not frantic about the invisible primary. Obviously, Romney has a base of staff, donors and supporters, and he doesn't need to panic about grabbing strategists and consultants who might defect from other potential candidates. He keeps in touch with key supporters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and the other early states, but his travel schedule is not burdened by a need to concentrate his time and resources on rebuilding lists, raising money and rebuilding his reputation.
- Pew finds that Romney's fav/unfav ratio is pretty darned good. The same guy who was pegged as a flip-flopper, as a fake (or too real) social conservative, as a guy who said what people wanted to hear... is relatively popular. Plenty of time has passed, and a very distracting election probably helped. But Romney did himself many favors as the 2008 presidential campaign wound down. He got out of the race at the right moment, letting arch-enemy Mike Huckabee try and rally the right against John McCain. He became the establishment frontrunner to be McCain's vice presidential selection, and when McCain didn't pick him, he became the '08 ticket's chief economics spokesman (when Carly Fiornia, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, flamed out.) He turned over his scheduling to McCain's team, winning goodwill. He's rehabbed his image fairly successfully. Some of the old baggage may whip around on the conveyor belt, but there'll be less of it.
- He's kept in touch with the right people, including McCain. While it's known that the two former rivals have had dinner since the election, it's not well known that McCain occasionally calls upon Romney for policy advice. As Romney slowly expands his circle, his inner ring advisers remain intact, including every significant member of his Massachusetts gubernatorial staff, his communications team, and many of his consultants. (When Romney visits Washington, D.C., he'll take dinner with ad man Russ Schriefer, with press secretary Kevin Madden, and with former communications director Matt Rhoades, among others.) Romney inspires loyalty like no other potential 2012 presidential candidate.
- He's helping the party. His donor base and personal wealth allow him to be a generous fundraiser for other candidates, campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie in New Jersey, Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Meg Whitman in California and his friend Bob Bennet in Utah. (Bennett's already running an ad featuring Romney's endorsement.)
- Good Bye To All That. There's a sense among Romney regulars that the stuff that tripped him up in 2008 will not be relevant if he decides to run in 2012. The number of people who will oppose him because of his faith probably won't grow. He made his rookie mistakes in 2008.