Mitt ’16 and the Damage To Be Done

As mixed and negative GOP reactions to Mitt Romney’s move towards a 2016 presidential candidacy roll in, it’s reasonably clear he’s not going to overwhelm the large and diverse pre-existing field with any avalanche of money or popular support. But it’s also increasingly clear he’s going to go forward with this project, at least for a while. So the right question to ask right now is how his proto-candidacy affects the dynamics of the contest? Who’s going to be damaged by Mitt ’16, even if he ultimately loses?

That’s the question I posed in my weekly column for TPMCafe, and I found myself remembering exactly how nasty and ruthless a primary candidate Romney proved to be, at least in 2012. That means no vulnerability among the candidates will go unexploited, and just about anybody could eventually come under fire from Team Mitt.

I did specifically suggest that aside from the impact on Jeb’s fundraising, the most obvious casualties could be candidates struggling to become the non-Bush-non-Wacko-Bird-but-acceptable-to-everybody options in the field, including Scott Walker. So I was interested to read a piece by the Washington Examiner‘s David Drucker today reporting that Walker is just pleased as punch that Romney’s jumped into the race with guns already blazing at Jebbie. Seems that he (or whoever in his camp that’s whispering to Drucker) figures anything that diminishes the big boys will be good for his “dark horse” candidacy.

Well, I dunno; it’s not like anyone can really sneak up on anyone else in the harsh glare of a presidential campaign. And one reason Walker’s putative bid feels a lot like Tim Pawlenty’s in 2012 is that it seems to depend on a lot of three-cushion shots that are easier to devise than to execute. But until Mitt’s strategy becomes plain, and/or he reconsiders a bid, nobody in the GOP should be chortling much about it. A wounded but still towering ego and endless sacks of money can together do a lot of damage.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.