Mitt Romney to give big speech on 2016 race. Joining #NeverTrump?

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, will be talking about the 'state of the race' Thursday.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP/File
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Jan. 28, 2015.

Mitt Romney on Thursday will give a major speech on his view of the 2016 presidential election, according to a news release from his office.

The Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee will be appearing at the Hinckley Institute of Politics in Salt Lake City. The announcement said the subject of his talk was the “state of the race” but gave no further details.

Hmm. “Major speech,” “state of the race,” what’s that mean? Is Mr. Romney going to endorse Marco Rubio or (less likely) one of the other remaining GOP hopefuls?

We’d guess that’s not the case. If he were, he’d be appearing onstage with the endorsee wherever he is campaigning. That wouldn’t be in Utah. Also, his friends and aides are saying it’s not that kind of speech.

“Close @MittRomney aide says he won’t endorse or get in, but tomorrow’s speech ‘will be worth covering,’ ” tweeted NBC campaign reporter Andrew Rafferty.

Hold it a second, “get in”? It’s kind of late for that since the primaries are about half over. Yes, Romney tried to run again at the start of the 2016 cycle, but he got elbowed out of the race by the juggernaut of the Jeb Bush campaign, if you remember. So maybe he’s having second, or third, thoughts. Or hoping that other people think he might be having those thoughts even if he isn’t.

Is Romney going to anti-endorse Donald Trump? This seems more likely. Romney is clearly unhappy with the rise of The Donald, whose demeanor is the opposite of his and whose rise could mean the end of the low-tax, small-government, corporate-friendly GOP that Romney knows and presumably loves.

In recent weeks, Romney’s been sniping at Mr. Trump from the safety of social media and doing a decent job of it. His style has been to pile on when Trump is already getting pressure on certain stuff.

Thus Romney has urged Trump to release his back tax returns. He’s pushed Trump to make public off-the-record conversations with The New York Times. Most notably, he hit Trump for the latter’s slowness to disavow the endorsement of former KKK official David Duke.

“A disqualifying & disgusting response by @realDonaldTrump to the KKK,” Romney tweeted on Monday. “His coddling of repugnant bigotry is not in the character of America.”

Tough words. Also effective words, since they roused Trump to respond with a fairly predictable “loser” taunt. Romney hasn’t fallen into the trap of exchanging adolescent jibes about body parts with Trump, as Senator Rubio has. Instead, Romney’s hit him quick on political substance and then moved on.

That may change Thursday. It’s even possible Romney will join the #NeverTrump movement and say he’d never vote for Trump if he’s the Republican nominee.

Would that matter? Well, it won’t derail Trump, who at this point is only a Florida primary win away from wrapping up the GOP presidential prize. Like so many Republican establishment figures, Romney is coming to the anti-Trump battle too late, with too little, to make a difference.

What it might do is give Romney a little free media exposure at a time when the GOP establishment may be mulling over its options. If there’s a revolt at a contentious convention, whom can the establishment offer as a legitimate Trump alternative? If the old GOP wants to split and field its own third-party candidate, who might that be?

Unlike Rubio or Ted Cruz, Romney’s never lost to Trump. So Romney may be implicitly offering himself as an alternative, whatever his speech’s specific words.

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