Via Red State, Romney already said he’d take a look at Johnson in an interview with CNN last month (excerpted in the clip below) but that was hypothetical and qualified by concerns over libertarian support for legal weed. Johnson and Weld are telling you now that things are in motion. Does Romney have anything to lose at this point by going the whole nine yards and endorsing a third-party candidate? He’s already gone eight yards in refusing to back Trump, and he saw what sort of reception Ted Cruz got for the lesser offense of politely avoiding an endorsement. Any Republican bridges that Romney might burn by backing Johnson have probably already been burned. And if anyone has the money and connections to rebuild them later, after hard feelings have softened, it’s Mitt.
The calculus for Romney at this point is simple: What would backing Johnson achieve? It would be a forceful rejection of Trump, of course, but Romney’s already criticized Trump about as forcefully as one can. His feelings about the Republican nominee aren’t in doubt. An endorsement would be a nice one-day headline for Johnson to help raise his name recognition, but any Republican who might be open to hearing Romney out on this has probably already thought through the possibility of voting third-party. If you’re a Republican or a conservative who’s decided that you can’t in good conscience support Trump, you know your choices — Johnson, Hillary, a write-in, or no vote. Romney doesn’t add anything to that. On the contrary, backing Johnson would leave him on the hook if, against all odds, Johnson piles up enough votes to damage Trump in a decisive way somehow this fall. Trump’s fans would spend every day until Election Day laughing in Romney’s face and taunting him that his support for the libertarian hasn’t moved a single voter, which would be more or less true, but if Johnson then surprised everyone with a larger than expected share of the popular vote, Romney would instantly become the GOP’s scapegoat-in-chief, the man who singlehandedly wrecked Republicans’ chances. I don’t know if even Mitt’s dough could unburn those bridges.
The real value to Romney in backing Johnson, I think, would be the personal satisfaction he’d get from supporting a candidate who stands for small(er) government while most of the “true conservatives” who jeered him as a flip-flopping RINO go face-first into the tank for a center-left nationalist authoritarian. And that satisfaction, I’d bet, would be considerable. If he really is done with running for office and feels he can afford to piss off Republicans — until they come crawling to him for donations in 2018, I mean — then why not do it? He’d be making the same basic bet (albeit with much lower career stakes) as Cruz, that in time Trump will come to be seen as anathema within the party. If that happens, the payoff for Cruz will be anointment as the leader of a newly reinvigorated conservative Republican Party. The payoff for Romney will be a political legacy that he was, in the end, more of a principled conservative than nearly all of his harshest right-wing critics. Nothing to lose at this point.