A piece in Business Insider, headlined “Romney’s inner circle is convinced he’s running,” describes the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee meeting with donors in New York earlier this week “to lay the groundwork for a 2016 White House bid.”
Romney representatives have been mum on the meetings. But a “senior Republican who has met with Romney” tells Politico’s Ben White that his pitch to Wall Street donors went like this: "He tells people not to commit to a candidate that is not their first choice and that they aren't excited about. He does not think much of the current field and does not think it is jelling. He still views himself as the leader of the establishment wing of the Republican Party.”
“It’s definitely a change in his message [tilted more toward running]," the source adds. The Republican also says Romney’s decision doesn’t hinge on whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gets in. "He does not feel he owes the Bushes anything and does not think Jeb is the de facto leader of the establishment GOP,” the source told Politico.
So, let’s take all that as a definite “maybe” – perhaps a step or two more along the spectrum toward running than he was before those meetings last Monday. A third serious bid by Romney would be an anomaly. Usually, serious contenders who try twice and fail hang it up for good – people like former Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas and Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona.
But in Romney’s case, the third time really could be a charm. And there’s real potential for Republican success that wasn’t there in 2008 or 2012. In 2008, even if Romney had won the nomination, chances were that then-Sen. Barack Obama was going to win anyway. President George W. Bush was deeply unpopular, and whoever the Democrats nominated was favored to win.
In 2012, when Romney did win the nomination, President Obama was popular enough, and the economy doing well enough, for him to win reelection.
Now, after two terms of Mr. Obama, 2016 should – in theory – be the Republicans’ turn to capture the White House. There are no guarantees, but the playing field should be more hospitable to the GOP than it was in 2008 and 2012.
The question is: Will the Republican Party maximize its chances by nominating its strongest candidate for the general election? Were he to run, Romney would have to be considered a top-tier candidate. He can raise a ton of money, he’s got gobs of national experience, his background is well-vetted, and his personal life is squeaky clean. Post-2012 polls have suggested a hint of buyer’s remorse among some Obama voters.
Would Romney make more “rich guy” gaffes? Probably. But so might Hillary Rodham Clinton, if she’s the Democratic nominee. Ms. Clinton has lived in a bubble since her husband threw in for the presidency in 1991, and since her time as first lady, has amassed considerable wealth.
Romney and Clinton would also cancel each other out on their lack of “new car smell,” which Obama has suggested voters want in 2016.
Maybe, in the end, another Republican rises to the occasion and captures the GOP’s heart. But from the sound of it, Romney isn’t convinced that his party’s large, still-forming field necessarily contains “the one.”
Romney is “keeping his options open,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
Because Romney already has high name recognition, he can afford to wait to get into the race – as late as July 2015, when the second-quarter fundraising reports come out. If nobody emerges by then as a strong candidate, then Romney could jump in.
“He’s positioning himself as the fallback guy,” Mr. O’Connell says.
Many shoes will drop between now and then, for both parties. And it’s possible, if not probable, that Romney will stick with retirement – and regular appearances on Sunday morning news shows as a party sage. But as long as he keeps dropping in on donors on Wall Street, the buzz will continue that Romney ’16 is a live possibility.