Political observers of all stripes know that Mitt Romney wants to run for President in 2012. He seemed to have a future run in mind the day he quit the 2008 race at CPAC this past February. As the Boston Globe recently reported, Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC has barely doled out any cash to preferred candidates and is viewed as likely saving up for a 2012 run.
What then does Romney have planned for the next four years? Here are five reasons why heading the RNC would help him with another run at the presidency:
1) It’s the Economy, Stupid: The Republican Party became the party of big government conservatism and wasteful spending over the past eight years. It needs to reclaim a fiscally conservative message to broaden its base and appeal to working-class Americans. The biggest issue facing the country over the next year is likely to be the continued economic crisis, and unlike traditional party hacks, Romney has real credentials in this arena. He is uniquely positioned to be a party leader on economic issues.
2) Default Opposition to Obama: If he hopes to be successful in a 2012 run, Romney will first have to convince Republicans that he is the best alternative to a President Obama. By assuming the Chairmanship, the media will anoint him as the opposition leader by default four years in advance. Having a steady platform with which to contrast with Obama will give him a significant leg-up heading into the 2012 primaries.
3) Republican Message Control: Rather than having to worry about what the national party is saying and doing in the 2010 election cycle, Romney will be able to control that message (at least that coming from the RNC, Congress is another story). This will allow him to decide on a method of contrast and attack during his tenure that will then flow into his 2012 bid.
4) Re-shape the Party Message: Romney was sharply criticized in the 2008 primary cycle for flip-flopping on various issues, mostly social, to accommodate the Republican base. As Chairman, Romney would have the ability, both subtly and overtly, to re-shape the party message to his liking rather than feel the need to adjust his positions to fit party orthodoxy.
5) Continue to Chip Away at Mormon Issue: Being elected Chairman would not eliminate this as a potential issue for Romney. Ken Mehlman ran the RNC and it would be difficult to argue that a Jewish candidate would still not face significant opposition in certain circles of the party. But by taking on such a visible leadership role, this would allow Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to view him simply as the Republican leader rather than as a member of any specific religious faith.
After serving two-years as Chairman, through the 2010 election cycle, Romney could then announce his intentions to run for President and focus on the buildup of his campaign operation ahead of the primary election.
Critics of a Romney chairmanship would likely argue that assuming such a position would provide little political benefit for him. He would be wasting his time.
Why bog yourself down running day-to-day operations of a national party?
There is no requirement that the RNC Chairman be involved in day-to-day operations of a bureaucracy. Rather, Romney could install a capable, well-respected, and trusted Executive Director for the party while acting largely as a spokesman and big-picture planner. He would immediately become the face of the party. He could only dream of attaining this status over the next two years if he were to continue to stand on the sidelines.
Romney is too high-profile to run the RNC.
Says who? McCain had too little money to win the nomination. Obama was too inexperienced to be elected President. There is no rulebook to this game. The political media is scarcely paying any attention to the race for Chairman, let alone the average American, who does not even know that there is a race. The party has a leadership void and both the party and the media would embrace having someone high-profile at the helm.
Running the RNC may help him get through the primaries, but would be harmful in a general election.
George Bush headed the RNC in the 1970s a decade before becoming President. Given the messiah-like way in which Obama rose to victory in this election, it is hard to argue that 2012 will be anything other than a referendum on the Obama presidency. So why not accept this fact and start drawing contrasts where they exist right away? There is no better vehicle for Romney to articulate his message than by serving as the head of his party.
RNC duties would get in the way of fundraising for his campaign.
This may be true. But Romney’s considerable personal wealth makes this less important of an issue than it would be for most candidates. In addition, the benefits of traveling to all fifty states for the RNC and building up considerable institutional support amongst RNC members and GOP activists far outweigh the costs of reduced fundraising capacity.
Disclosure: This author is not supporting Romney for this position.