An early indication of the paucity of prospective Republican presidential candidates for 2016 is the recent boomlet for Mitt Romney, the loser in 2012. His reputation for defending big business while being tone-deaf to the needs of the middle class undid him two years ago.
As the titular leader of the party for now -- the booby prize as the loser of the previous presidential election -- Romney returned last weekend to Iowa, where his easy victory in the state's kickoff precinct caucuses catapulted him to the 2012 nomination. He attended a fund-raiser for party's U.S. Senate candidate, state legislator Joni Ernst.
The visit provided a stage for Romney supporters in Iowa to call on their man to try again, although he has repeatedly said he has no interest in another attempt, which would be his third. Backers cite President Obama's slipping second-term approval ratings in the polls to argue that voters made a mistake in 2012, and that Romney remains the GOP's best chance to regain the White House in 2016.
A recent Des Moines Register-Bloomberg News survey found that only Romney among potential Republican candidates would beat Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton among likely Iowa voters, by 44 percent to 43. Rather than wallowing in his defeat of two years ago, Romney has conspicuously been a good and gracious loser, also showing a much warmer personal side that seldom came through then.
Perhaps as much as any other reason for the attempt to resurrect Romney has been the second-term public disappointment in President Obama, and not only for the flawed rollout of his health-care insurance law. It also stems from a sense of general incompetence in office, fanned by the Republicans, and Obama's limited course on dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The prospect of a Romney comeback also bespeaks the inability of the other Republicans prominently jockeying for a 2016 candidacy -- Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, as well as former Sen. Rick Santorum and others -- to get much traction. Only former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, now acknowledging he is seriously weighing a bid, appears at this point to have the potential to scare Romney off if he decides to run.
The likelihood of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee has prompted some speculation that any GOP nominee will feel obliged to choose a female running mate to combat her expected huge support among women voters. But voters seldom cast their ballots based on the identity of the vice-presidential nominee.
Only one ticket mate in the last half-century could be said to have had a decisive impact on a presidential election: Lyndon Johnson, who helped John Kennedy carry Texas in 1960. In 1984, Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale's choice of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate failed to avert a landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan.
There are only four Republican females currently in the Senate, the most prominent of whom are Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans there, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who has had only modest national visibility. Of 16 House members, only Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is prominently on the GOP radar as chair of the House Republican Conference, and only one of six state governors, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, an Indian-American, has received much national exposure. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, mentioned occasionally, may be better known than any of them.
A presidential loser bouncing back is not unheard of. Andrew Jackson lost in 1824 but was elected in 1828 and re-elected in 1832. Grover Cleveland was elected 1884, defeated for re-election in 1888, but came back in 1892. In 1960 Richard Nixon lost but eight years later won and was re-elected in 1972, before being forced to resign in 1974. Finally, Ronald Reagan lost the GOP nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976 but was elected easily in 1980 and again in 1984.
When it comes to politics, at least, F. Scott Fitzgerald's line that "there are no second acts in American lives" is dead wrong.
Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books.