The lack of a GOP front-runner for the 2016 presidential race was underscored at a gathering in Utah this weekend hosted by former GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney. A slew of Republican hopefuls trekked to ski country for an “issues forum” that was in fact yet another audition for support from billionaire investors, other Wall Street moneymen and corporate executives, many of whom raised the $1 billion that funded Romney’s 2012 campaign.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was there, as were Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Rob Portman and New Mexico Governor Susana Martínez. And although former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio couldn’t make it, Bush sent key surrogates.
But despite the efforts of these presidential hopefuls, the talk floating through the corridors was of drafting Romney again.
“Instead, the scene at a luxury resort in the Rocky Mountains quickly became a Romney revival,” as The Washington Post reported:
Minutes after the 2012 Republican presidential nominee welcomed his 300 guests, Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host and former GOP congressman, urged them to begin a “Draft Romney” movement in 2016.
“This is the only person that can fill the stage,” Scarborough said at the opening-night private dinner, according to attendees…Yet in hallway chats and over cocktails, they’ve been abuzz about recruiting someone else—Romney—into his third presidential race. “Everybody realizes we’re devoid of leadership in D.C.,” said Harold Hamm, a billionaire energy investor who was one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers in 2012. “Everybody would encourage him to consider it again.”
The buzz about Romney was also picked up by the Associated Press, which noted that his effort to shape the Republican field “is fueling whispers about a third presidential run.”
And NBC News also described the angst among the influential GOP donors:
But the cloudless sky outside belied the quiet anxiety and confusion indoors: Six months from the unofficial start of the next presidential campaign, is there anyone in the Republican Party who could take on Clinton?
The answer is so unclear that one name kept coming up: Mitt Romney, the man who couldn’t beat President Barack Obama.
“I think if you asked this group, ‘who could beat Hillary Clinton,’ they’d say, Mitt Romney could beat Hillary Clinton,” said Spencer Zwick, the finance chairman of Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and an organizer of the summit. “Now, again, he’s not running—but is there someone like that that we could get behind?”
The talk of another Romney campaign, especially at this point in the election cycle, underscores the degree of disarray within the Republican Party. It means the GOP nominee will have a late start, compared to previous elections, in raising money and building state operations—as the Los Angeles Times noted: