Nominating Romney again would be a fun test of just how much MAGA voters fear and loathe Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Consider all the rhetoric we absorb each election cycle about how the country’s going to hell and its decline will be irreversible if the left wins the presidency and we should do anything and everything to prevent that. Would “anything and everything” include casting a vote for a traditional Republican who twice voted to impeach the populist hero Trump?

I suspect that, for many, it wouldn’t. Seeing the Democrats win would be preferable. Which means “anything and everything” doesn’t actually mean anything and everything.

But that’s okay. It’s perfectly proper to withhold your vote from a candidate aligned with your own side because you can’t stomach him. No one understands that better than a Never Trumper.

Reason editor Robby Soave floated this bit of MAGA bait in the pages of Utah’s Deseret News yesterday. He recognizes that Romney stands zero chance in a modern post-Trump Republican presidential primary, so he’s not arguing that Romney would win the nomination if he ran. He’s arguing that Romney would be the Republican most likely to win the general election in a landslide if nominated.

I’m skeptical.

The current junior senator from Utah, former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 GOP presidential candidate is less loved by some Republicans than he was a decade ago because the hardcore MAGA crowd considers him a traitor to Trump. But among non­-Republicans, his star has never shone brighter. He has burnished his credibility as an independent-minded politician who is not afraid to challenge Trump: He is the only Republican senator who voted to convict the president in both impeachment trials…

Romney’s foreign policy credentials would also play well in the current moment, especially since Russia’s aggression will undoubtedly remain an important campaign issue. It was Romney, after all, who named Russia the U.S.’s No. 1 geopolitical foe during a debate with President Barack Obama. That claim prompted derision from Obama, who said, “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back … the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”

The key advantage for Romney, however, is that the media wouldn’t be so quick on the draw: The years of goodwill Romney has earned would be his advantage.

In fact, a prospective Romney campaign would benefit from having withstood withering, frequently misguided media criticism during the 2012 cycle. Reflecting on his own misguided treatment of “honorable” Republicans like Romney, the liberal commentator Bill Maher once said, “We cried wolf. And that was wrong.”

“Romney — and Romney alone — has the chance to win decisively and usher in a new and more united brand of politics,” Soave concludes. It’s true that there are few figures in Washington at this point who’ve gained as much bipartisan credibility as Mitt did by dint of his impeachment votes. The only competition is the Democratic black sheep, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. But nothing erodes bipartisan appeal as quickly as the corrosive hyperpartianship of a presidential election. Believe it or not, before the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton was one of the most popular figures in Obama’s cabinet, a politician who had managed to rise above partisan politics for a time due to her status as America’s top diplomat. By the end of 2016, she was so widely despised that she managed to blow an election to the guy who made the “Access Hollywood” tape.

So Romney probably wouldn’t improve wildly on Trump’s 2020 performance in winning Democratic crossover votes.

He would improve on Trump’s numbers among independents, if only because that bar is so low. Trump took just 41 percent of the indie vote against Biden. Soave’s theory about Romney’s electability boils down to this, then: Would Mitt run up the score among indies so high that those gains would more than offset the losses he’d inevitably suffer on the right once some MAGA fans refused to vote for him?

Again, I’m skeptical. For one thing, he’d have Trump on the sidelines giving him the full Liz Cheney/Brian Kemp treatment to discourage populist Republicans from supporting him. For another, nominating Romney would almost certainly invite a third-party candidacy from the right in the form of Marjorie Taylor Greene or Mike Flynn or Tucker Carlson or whoever. That would give MAGA fans a place to park their votes instead of reluctantly supporting the GOP nominee. And many would relish having that option: The unstated (but sometimes hinted at) view of Trump and his acolytes is that if the Republican Party won’t serve Trump and Trumpism then it deserves to lose to the Democrats. That goes double for Romney, who had the audacity to vote to remove Trump from office twice.

On top of that, Romney has already lost a national election. MAGA dislikes a loser but it detests a good loser, someone who stoically accepts the voters’ verdict. If Romney had screamed like a baby for 15 months after the 2012 election that he’d been robbed while farting out one insane conspiracy theory after another to support his argument, maybe he would have cast enough doubt on the outcome that he’d be worth nominating again. But as it is, he’s not a guy who’s going to try to seize power via a soft coup because his ego can’t handle defeat. He doesn’t “fight.”

Frankly, I’m not convinced that Romney as GOP nominee would do so much better among independents than Ron DeSantis that it would render irrelevant DeSantis’s far superior performance among the Republican base. DeSantis would have righties behind him in lockstep, enthusiastic to vote, while remaining enough of a traditional normie Republican to put suburbanites leery of Trump at ease. That sounds to me like a better blueprint for an easy win than Romney’s strategy of running to the center and just sort of trusting the personality-cult wing of the GOP to forgive him his many, many trespasses against the leader.

Wherever you come down on the question, though, it’s likely that either would outperform Trump as nominee:

The most interesting Romney 2024 scenario is him running as an independent with a Democratic running mate on a “fusion” ticket. He and Kyrsten Sinema are pals; imagine that ballot as a play for the middle. It’s hard to see any third-party candidate winning the presidency, but in a scenario in which both major-party nominees provoke a strong “ugh” reaction from most of the electorate, it gets a bit easier. A Trump vs. Harris election would be a double “ugh” moment. But since most voters on each side are tribal partisan zombies, I’d guess Romney/Sinema would be lucky to crack 10 percent.

I’ll leave you with this as a sneak preview of the GOP’s 2024 foreign policy platform.

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