For the small orbit of friends, loyalists, and former aides that still revolves around Mitt Romney, Tuesday’s GOP primaries were cause for celebration — and a little bit of gloating.
The elections featured a trio of Romney-endorsed Republicans beating back challenges from the tea party by filling their coffers with establishment cash, and appealing to electoral pragmatism. In Idaho, Rep. Mike Simpson defeated his primary opponent with $4 million raised by allies like the United States Chamber of Commerce. In Pennsylvania, incumbent Rep. Bill Shuster triumphed over a challenge from the right. And in Oregon, Monica Wehby, a pro-abortion rights neurosurgeon who many Republicans have touted as a rising star, emerged victorious despite a last-minute character assault led by Democrats.
To fans of the former presidential nominee, Tuesday was evidence that Romney Republicanism is alive and well in today’s GOP.
“I think Republicans are sick of losing,” said Robert O’Brien, a Romney family friend who served as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. “I think the Romney brand has had a real resurgence after the campaign, and a lot of Republicans realized, hey this guy was right about a lot of things, and they realize his endorsement carries significant weight.”
Similarly, Ryan Williams, a former Romney campaign spokesman, boasted, “Tonight was a good night for Gov. Romney and his endorsed candidates.”
He went on to add, “For too long our party has been without a powerful voice who has been able to help the most electable conservative candidates build support and raise the resources needed to navigate competitive primary contests. Governor Romney has filled that void.”
Forgive them if their rhetoric seems a bit lofty. Three primary wins doesn’t add up to a revolution, of course, and it is unclear what effect, if any, Romney’s endorsements had on the candidates’ victories.
But for the aides and allies who stood by Romney in 2012 — during which he was relentlessly attacked by right-wing primary opponents for his moderate record, and then forced to carry off his party’s baggage when he lost in November — it is vindicating to see midterm candidates win while touting his endorsement, and adopting, to various extents, his trademark strain of corporate, practical conservatism. Wehby’s candidacy, in particular, is reminiscent of Romney’s 1994 Massachusetts Senate bid — a young, articulate political newcomer running in a blue state by touting private-sector credentials and a center-left position on abortion. (Wehby says she is personally opposed to abortion, but doesn’t believe the federal government should restrict access to it.)
In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 election, Romney was the target of a wide-scale Republican pile-on, with commentators and politicians across the spectrum of conservatism predicting he would quickly fade into obscurity and irrelevance. Now, a year and a half later, some of the former candidate’s closest allies are eager to say “I told you so.”
Spencer Zwick, who served as campaign finance chair in 2012 and remains close with the Romneys, said it would be unfair to the candidates who won Tuesday night to attribute their victories to any endorsement. But he also suggested Romney has been in demand this election season.
“In all these cases, it is also fair to point out that [the candidates] each very much wanted Gov. Romney’s support and endorsement,” said Zwick. “He continues to be a very powerful voice for the party. He is one of the few individuals who can help Republicans define their message and unite behind candidates that can win general elections.”