"You cannot make a souffle rise twice" or so maintained Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice Longworth, during Thomas E. Dewey's ill fated candidacy in 1948. For 2012, one is tempted to use the same dismissal of Mitt Romney's second run for the Republican nomination. Indeed, the GOP has proven many times that it backs return candidates, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Robert Dole and John McCain, all lost either nominations or general elections to return in triumph.
But somehow Romney is perceived as different even though is has less baggage than any of the other comeback candidates. Give him credit, he did not lash out at the press as Nixon did in 1962 after losing the California governorship. He did not growl in 2008 as Dole did after losing the New Hampshire primary in 1988 about G.H.W. Bush "lying about" his record. By all measure, he is a gentleman, like Reagan in 1976, taking his defeat gracefully. Despite many virtues and almost no vices, Romney is having a rough time claiming the vaunted status of front runners.
Partially, it is because he seems deadly dull, sticking to the script, emphasizing his years in the private sector until the listener is paralyzed by boredom. Like Evelle Younger, a California gubernatorial candidate in 1978, he appears to many voters as having the personality of a "mashed potato sandwich." Even when he tries to be spontaneous such as his friendly but with Rick Perry for the common stake of $10,000, he is scorned for flaunting his wealth.
Only Sargent Shriver in 1976 has been as clumsy at one point is a saloon sportingly offering to by beers for the house only to spoil the moment by adding "and a Courvoisier for me." Note, you drink what you order for everyone else. Like his father, George Romney, who ran in 1968, there is a touching naivete about Mitt. He is himself, buttoned down and sincere, but to this point virtually unsellable.
In an earlier era being reserved was an asset not a liability. Nixon was stiff, yet effective on the stump. Reagan, although excellent delivering speeches, was not an easy mixer. But, Nixon and Reagan were staples within the GOP - everyone knew them and generally they were considered safe. Romney has one term as a fairly moderate governor of Massachusetts - with a health plan no less.
Perhaps he is the last of the Eastern Republicans that dominated the GOP until 1964, Nixon provided a bridge between the big money boys and the conservatives. In 1976, they managed to barely nominate Gerald Ford over Reagan, and they lost. Indeed, Ford, Dole and McCain were old-fashioned Republicans, and they all went down to defeat. Even both Bushes had strong connections to the old party, and they had to struggle in the general elections. This wing kept Reagan at bay until 1980, and he proved very electable.
So it is no wonder why conservatives are not bowled over by the argument that only Mitt can win. Reagan was a bit like Aaron Rodgers, who was benched behind Brett Favre and kept on the sidelines way too long. For the right, Romney is no winner, and they have history on their side. Newt Gingrich is derided as a loser, yet arguably besides Reagan, he is the cleverest conservative of the last 50 years. They laughed at him in 1994 and guess what, he cleaned up in the midterm year.
Democrats are not good judges of Republican talent. They fear Romney and loathe Gingrich, which is strange. In 1980, many salivated when Reagan became the front runner and came to regret it. Gingrich is smart, talented and shrewd and only a political novice would underestimate him. Romney for all his steadiness has yet to prove that he is an effective candidate.