With Thursday's announcement by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney that he is suspending his campaign, many view it as the end to his presidential quest. I view it as just the beginning.
Every logical indicator points to 2008 being a large year for Democrats, with 30 percent more registered Democrats nationally, President Bush's approval ratings mired in the low 30s and with enormous enthusiasm for the Democratic presidential candidates. After all, Democrats are seeing over 20 percent greater participation in their primaries compared to Republicans and collectively have raised more than 30 percent more in campaign funds than their GOP counterparts. Yes, John McCain may overcome all this and defeat Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but if not, Mitt Romney might have the last laugh.
Clearly a defeated John McCain would not be the GOP nominee in 2012. Not only would he be 76 years old that year, but it has been decades since a party nominated the same losing candidate a second time (Nixon in 1968). What we do see in modern presidential politics, especially with the Republican Party, is that those who run well and don't quite clinch the nomination today are front-runners the next time around.
John McCain was the runner-up in 2000 to George W. Bush, but eight years later is the front-runner and likely nominee. Bob Dole lost the race for the GOP nomination in 1980 and came in second to George H. W. Bush in 1988, earning him the right to be the nominee in 1996. George H. W. Bush fell short to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and, via the vice presidency, was the GOP's successful standard bearer in 1988. Even Ronald Reagan took the silver medal against Gerald Ford in 1976, coming back four years later to be the Republican nominee.
George W. Bush did not have to first be an also-ran before winning the nomination in 2000, but with his unique political pedigree he was granted an exception to this rule. Ford also did not initially run for the Republican nomination, but he also came to the office under unusual circumstances. But besides these two exceptions, it has been 44 years since the Republican Party has given the nomination to someone who did not first run and lose the party's nod. Why should 2012 be any different?
So if history is any indicator, a Democrat victory in November would spell the end of John McCain and the genesis of a Romney resurgence in 2012. With Mitt's fundraising prowess and deep personal pockets, he would be poised to mount a serious comeback. He has also learned much this time around and found his voice and authentic stump style later in the campaign.At age 64, he would still be spry and presidential looking, and his shifted position on abortion would be even further in the past. And who knows, after four years of the Clintons back in the White House or some bumpy years with Obama steering the nation too far left, the political landscape may be far friendlier to the GOP nominee in 2012 than in 2008. Maybe in the end, Mitt's best shot at ultimately winning the White House was to lose in 2008 so he can go all the way in four years.
Michael K. Winder is the author of "Presidents and Prophets: The Story of America's Presidents and the LDS Church" and a member of the Utah Board of State History.