The Anatomy of a ‘Mitt Romney 2016’ Story

Will Mitt run again? Absolutely not, but let’s read about it anyway!

Mitt Romney 'slow jams the news' on Jimmy Fallon

Mitt Romney ‘slow jams the news’ on Jimmy Fallon

Will, Mitt Romney run for president in 2016???

In Mitt Romney’s words, “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no.” That sounds like a no. But it doesn’t stop news organizations from putting the question in a headline before revealing the answer. And it doesn’t stop people like you and I, people who should know better, from clicking on it with incredulous wonder and reading the whole thing.

These are textbook examples of a good clickbait political story. So let’s break them down. These articles needs two things: an interesting narrative, and the element of surprise. Stories suggesting Mitt Romney might do well to consider his third run for the White House, even having lost in 2012, certainly contain the latter. It’s a ludicrous idea.

Now you have to weave an implausible yet not impossible narrative pegged to at least a few recent news stories so as not to anger your audience for wasting their time. The Mitt stories go like this: Chris Christie’s recent revenge plot revelations aren’t doing his presidential prospects many favors, so down goes the leading contender. Plus, Mitt Romney is the star of a new documentary that does what many deemed impossible. It makes him seem less like a cylon, and instead, appear as his campaign long insisted he should: human and presidential. Plus he appeared on Jimmy Fallon. Someone warm up Marine One.

Finally, you get a couple political operatives to say things that suggest it’s not a 0 percent possibility (even though it is.) There are 800,000,000 people in America who call themselves “party insiders,” and of that, there are about 799,999,999 willing to give you a blind quote about Mitt Romney. (The other one is Mitt Romney.) They say things like,  “A year ago I would have laughed at that question. Today I’m not laughing,” in the Boston Herald. Or  “I think we need Mitt back,” in Buzzfeed.

As a journalist, there is a varying amount of knowingness or sense of shame you can bring to this kind of story. On one end is the aforementioned Herald, which doesn’t telegraph any hint that it knows exactly what it is doing. “It might make sense for Mitt Romney to run for president in 2016!” they seem to say with total earnestness.

There’s the moderate level of shame, in which the story at least goes so far as to shoot down the idea as idle chatter in a year when presidential news is harder to come by. (Hey, we can only talk about Elizabeth Warren so much.) “We get swept up in these moments,” Obama advisor David Plouffe tells a Bloomberg News roundtable. “Two months from now, I don’t think anyone will be talking about Mitt Romney.” 

And then there’s the complete level of shame, in which you do everything that the previous articles are doing, but you say it sarcastically so your audience knows you just need something to fill your column inches that week, but you don’t actually buy into this stuff. Enter: Maureen Dowd, “There’s always 2016,” she sneers at Mitt, meaning the exact opposite. (Note, this very story you’re reading also likely falls into the final category.)

She has a point. Setting aside what kind of president he would be, Mitt Romney was, in many moments, a very bad candidate. The film cannot erase the memory of these flaws entirely. He also seems extremely convincing and sincere when he describes how arduous a campaign is, both for him and his family. After saying “no,” as many times as a reporter is willing to write down, he adds, “People are always gracious and say, ‘Oh, you should run again.’ I’m not running again … I think that Chris Christie and Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and the list goes on, have a much better chance of doing that, and so I will support one of them as they become the nominee.” Just because you remove Chris Christie from that list (and there’s no guarantee that this scandal has) doesn’t leave only one man standing. There are plenty of other options not named Willard Mitt Romney. But we all knew that when we clicked on those stories. It didn’t make it less fun to read and scoff at them anyway.

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  • Nathan

    Mitt was right for the country then and He’s right for it now. Mitt 2016!!!

  • tedcohen

    Read my lips – he’s considering 2016, no matter what he says.

    • ABoleynGirl

      I’m okay with that.

  • ArizonaNative

    We needed Mitt in 2012, we need him even more now. Run Mitt!!!!

  • BossMan

    If he ran again, would it not embody the persistent, never say die, get back up when you’ve been knocked down spirit of America that seems to have been lost in recent years? Perhaps that kind of spirit is exactly what we need right now. Third time is a charm.

  • Adam Brown

    He would be the real Rocky if he ran again.

    • SecludedCompound

      Wait, Rocky won after a while, right? Mitt Romney will never be president.

  • SecludedCompound

    Mitt Romney knows that he would lose for the exact same reasons he lost last time; the economic policies of the Republicans, which he strove to make himself the avatar of, have failed for forty years. Seeing as he lost by about five million votes last time and the demographic precipice for Republicans is so steep, he knows that a) his reputation as a statesman is gone, and b) he would lose in a landslide to Hillary Clinton.

    He wont risk it. And hey, offshore accounts and a little quid-pro-quo payback pay more, right?

  • deniseeeee

    He was and is the best man for the job. We really did need him to win in 2012. So disappointed in the voters of this country. They are just not paying attention and making such important political voting decisions based on personality not experience or performance.

  • Anthony

    Mitt Romney should have been President! It would great if he decided to run again! Maby now voter’s eyes have been opened to the fiasco in Washington DC. This country needs someone with Mitt Romney’s experience and performance…..now!!

  • Jared Townsend

    It is absolutely astounding to me that these so-called journalists take their high and mighty “all-knowing” postures and sprinkle their pearls of wisdom among the rest of us swine. Give me a break. Admit it, your sole purpose for writing such a bogus article is to discredit a man who you fear would be the best champion of conservatism this country has seen since Ronald Reagan and perhaps even beyond.

    Yes, I said Reagan, the man who ran for president THREE TIMES before winning. And what about Nixon? A failed gubernatorial run AND a failed run in the general before coming back to run and win the presidency. Eisenhower literally had to be drafted by the American public before becoming president.

    So either you have a complete disregard for history or you have another agenda. You know what a Romney presidency would mean for the liberal movement. It would likely usher in a conservative Renaissance the likes of which would change the political landscape for a generation and more! Well, I think it’s time we take a cue from the pages of history. It’s time for a Draft Romney movement to bring this country back to its former greatness… the greatness people such as Mr. Randall so vehemently despise!

    #MittRomney2016 #DraftRomney

    • Trish Pulley

      Thank you for your insight! I didn’t know that bit about Reagan. Well said, all of it.

  • Polly Tigal

    Mitt Romney is the sum total of what this country needs right now. It’s high time we start treating elections more like job interviews, and less like popularity contests. Experience matters. A proven track record matters even more. This president had neither, and it shows. We need Mitt Romney more than ever.

  • Casey Mortensen

    Eric Randall, This is a worthy attempt of downplaying the fact that Mitt Romney would make a great President, I applaud you for that. Maybe we as a country don’t deserve a good President anymore, after all we elected the George Soros puppet Obama. Mitt isn’t going away anytime soon, many sectors of the private sector and the government will yet seek his advice in future times.