Don't dream it's over: Romney reportedly chatting with advisors about a 2016 run

A tip o’ the cap this morning to Ed and Noah, both of whom passed on this story earlier knowing how happy it would make me to rewrite my standard “Romney 2016?” post for the 75th time.

After reading Byron York’s report, what’s left to say or do except high-five at the prospect of another 75 over the next year? Up top, bro.

Romney is talking with advisers, consulting with his family, keeping a close eye on the emerging ’16 Republican field, and carefully weighing the pluses and minuses of another run. That doesn’t mean he will decide to do it, but it does mean that Mitt 2016 is a real possibility.

Nearly all of Romney’s 2012 circle of advisers, finance people, and close aides remains intact. Many developed an extraordinary loyalty to Romney, who, in turn, has kept in close touch with them. Romney talks to some of them quite frequently in conversations that cover daily news, foreign and domestic policy, Hillary Clinton, the Republican field — everything that might touch on a 2016 campaign. “Virtually the entire advisory group that surrounded Mitt in 2012 are eager for him to run, almost to a man and a woman,” says one plugged-in member of Romneyland.

A significant number of Romney’s top financial supporters from 2012 have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney. They believe they are doing it with the tacit approval of Romney himself. “Spencer Zwick has never said specifically to everyone to keep your powder dry,” says the plugged-in supporter, referring to Romney’s former finance chairman who remains very close to Romney. “But the body language, the intonation, and the nuance are absolutely there.”

York’s source wouldn’t give odds on Mitt running except to say that the chances are “definitely more than zero.” The sticking point, as Ann Romney suggested yesterday, is whether Jeb Bush gets in, I guess on the theory that the modern Republican party simply must have either Mitt or a member of the Bush family on the ballot in Iowa or New Hampshire. (What happened, 1996?) Or, just maybe, as Ben Domenech says, there’s more to it than that:

[W]hy run Romney with the 5.0 update? Why would Republicans want to double – nay, triple-dip the chip?

Three obvious reasons combine: the interest of the consultant class, who want more than anything else a candidate whose checks will clear; a portion of the donor base terrified of rising populism in the party, who wants a Wall Street-friendly candidate to tuck them in at night and whisper away their fears; and a candidate whose principal weaknesses were his intrinsic oddness, his insulation from normality, and his tendency to fundamentally misunderstand the electorate, now apparently considering basing another campaign on one more round of misperceptions.

Greedy, tone-deaf, and repulsed by its own base — that’s our Beltway GOP! Three questions here as I struggle for new things to say about this already tired, dispiriting subject. One: If Jeb passes and Mitt gets in, will anyone else in the field drop out to clear a path for him? Obviously no one on the right like Paul or Cruz would. They’re set up to run as the anti-Romneys. How about the center? Christie seems like an obvious candidate to pass since so many of his donors would be gobbled up by Romney 5.0, but maybe he wouldn’t purely out of pride. He passed in 2012, to Romney’s benefit; 2016 is supposed to be his turn, especially now that the Bridgegate storm appears to be passing. Maybe he’d run anyway, positioning himself as the obvious option for “somewhat conservative” voters who are leery of the tea partiers but also gripped by Romney fatigue. (A contrast in styles with the Romneybot might also help Christie’s plainspoken tough guy shtick play better.)

Two: How would Romney 5.0 differ from Romney 4.0? In many ways it wouldn’t, of course. One of Mitt’s key messages next time would be “I was right about nearly everything in 2012.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But … it is broke in some respects. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have lost. One obvious flip-flop to come is on amnesty: His donor-class supporters were willing to tolerate “self-deportation” in 2012 because they thought he needed to pander to righties more than he did to Latinos, but that equation has now reversed. As someone said last night on Twitter, you’ll know Romney’s seriously thinking of getting in when he starts calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Beyond that, he’s also going to have to find a way to walk back the “47 percent”/makers and takers rhetoric that killed him towards the end of the campaign. I have no earthly idea how he’d do it. No one seriously believes he’s had some sea change in opinion on that point in two years. But then, no one really believes Paul Ryan has either and that hasn’t stopped Ryan from trying to convince them.

Three: A Romney/Clinton race (or Bush/Clinton race) all but guarantees a serious third-party run from somebody, no? If independents can’t muster a credible candidate with establishment retreads at the top of both major party tickets then the third-party dream truly is dead and gone forever. Who’s it going to be, though? Jim Webb has the populism but he doesn’t have the money; Jon Huntsman and Mike Bloomberg have the money but they don’t have the populism. The only guy out there with a big enough name and a loyal enough following to make things sort of interesting is Rand Paul, but Rand will probably be in the mix for the GOP nomination at least through South Carolina. How would he transition from GOP loser to independent sensation? And why would he risk his Senate seat (assuming he’s able to run both for president and for reelection to the Senate in Kentucky) by abandoning the Republican Party? He’s better off losing graciously, getting back to work in the Senate, and then hoping the party tilts further libertarian in the years ahead so that he can try again in 2020 or 2024.

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