Mitt Romney broke one of the unwritten rules of Washington today by attacking the foreign policies of the sitting President who defeated him, and the manner in which he did so suggests that he’s about to break another. Romney made a point blaming Barack Obama for the current situation in Crimea, suggesting that his policies are to blame for the ease with which Russian President Vladimir Putin has seized power in the region. But Romney took the criticism further, stating that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband are also to blame. Republican politicians attacking Hillary Clinton is nothing new, particularly in light of her ascent to the de facto democratic party candidate for President in 2016. But Romney’s suggestion that Bill Clinton – whose Presidency ended thirteen years ago – is also to blame for the current Russia mess is not only a reach, it suggests that Romney may be gearing up for another Presidential bid himself.
Running for President again four years after losing in the general election is rare in American politics. Adlai Stevenson did it twice in the 1950s, but only got the nomination a second time in 1956 because the overwhelming popularity of sitting President Dwight Eisenhower meant that few serious democrats wanted to bother running against him. Similarly, the current popularity of Hillary Clinton in comparison to any of the republican names being floated means that the GOP nomination could end up being wide open for the taking. Bill Clinton, perhaps even currently more popular than his wife, would figure to be a central component in her campaign. And if Mitt Romney is in fact planning to run again, attacking Bill now in an attempt to tie him to Putin would make sense an early strategic move.
But would the republican party really be willing to nominate Romney again? He lost to Obama by three million votes in 2012, in part because the nation at large considered him to be too conservative, even as the ever-more-conservative republican base quietly griped that he wasn’t conservative enough for their tastes. Romney would face another issue in that his 2012 running mate Paul Ryan appears to be positioning himself for the nomination, setting up a potential showdown in the primaries between two men who once shared the same ticket. But Romney is in good health, and while his failure to disclose his tax returns was an issue in 2012, it may not be any more of an issue in 2016. He’ll be sixty-nine years old by then – the same age as Hillary Clinton.
Still, Romney could simply be looking for retribution for the past. Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, which helped propel Obama to reelection, accused Romney of offering budgetary plans consisting of faulty math. So Romney’s assertion today that Bill Clinton’s tenure in the 1990s is responsible for the current actions of Vladimir Putin could simply be an instance of exercising an existing grudge. But the mere fact that Romney is still making partisan political statements at all, eighteen months after he was thought to have stepped off the political stage for good, suggests that a possible repeat run is something that cannot be ruled out.