Bouie thinks “it’s not crazy for Romney to think that he’s still viable”:
Given 1.8 percent gross domestic product growth in the first seven months of 2012, President Obama was projected to win 51.2 percent of the two-party vote. He won 52 percent, to Romney’s 48 percent.
It’s possible that a stronger, more charismatic Republican could have moved the needle and beat the fundamentals. But I doubt it. A growing economy is like a Power Star for an incumbent president, and barring some other disaster—like a bungled war or serious terrorist attack—there’s little you can do to stop the momentum. And even then, it’s difficult. John Kerry outperformed the fundamentals and still lost the 2004 election. It’s not that he was a bad candidate, it’s that beating an incumbent president is hard.
But, should Romney’s gambit succeed, Aaron Blake points out that Mitt “would be only the second major-party nominee since the 1800s to lose a presidential race and then come back and win one.” Nixon and Grover Cleveland are the exceptions to the rule:
Nixon lost the 1960 popular vote by less than one point, and Cleveland actually won it in 1888, despite losing the Electoral College. In other words, they were near-miss candidates who probably earned another shot, in the eyes of party supporters. Romney’s 2012 loss — at nearly four points overall and the Electoral College 332-206 — while technically one of the closer popular votes in history, wasn’t really regarded as much of a near-miss (by everyone except perhaps the Romney campaign).
Larison is highly skeptical that Romney can follow in Nixon’s footsteps:
Romney fans like to cite Nixon’s example as proof that it is possible for a losing general election candidate to come back later and win, but they don’t try to explain why no one since Nixon has even made the effort. In the last century, it is not unheard of for a party to turn to a losing nominee a second time, but it is still fairly rare for a reason, and that reason is that it is almost always a guarantee of another loss. As it was, Nixon was (barely) able to win in ’68, and he had come much closer in 1960 than Romney did in 2012. He had been Vice President on two landslide-winning tickets, and already had far more relevant political experience before becoming president than Romney will ever have. Such comebacks for losing candidates are possible, but they are extremely difficult even for someone with Nixon’s background. Romney doesn’t have that background or anything like it.