Quotes of the day

In a move that surprised his most loyal supporters and former staff, Mitt Romney told several donors Friday he is seriously considering a third run for the White House…

“Mitt has been a terrific leader for the Republican Party, but if he runs again, he’ll have to earn it again,” said veteran Republican operative Phil Musser, a former Romney supporter. His firm is already handling preliminary campaign work for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but Musser says he has not committed to a candidate…

“Jeb Bush forced everyone’s hand,” said Barney Keller, a Republican strategist. “If he’s serious, Romney needs to start rounding up support, sooner rather than later.”…

Were Romney moving to join the 2016 field, many who served in senior roles in his previous campaigns assumed they would have been given a heads-up about an announcement. Those contacted by The Associated Press Friday evening had not been notified of Romney’s intentions.

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“I want to be president,” Romney told about 30 donors in New York. He said that his wife, Ann — who last fall said she was emphatically against a run — had changed her mind and was now “very encouraging,” although their five sons remain split, according to multiple attendees…

“What he has said to me before is, ‘I am preserving my options.’ What he is now saying is, ‘I am seriously considering a run,’ ” said Bobbie Kilberg, a top donor from Virginia who raised millions of dollars for Romney’s 2012 bid. She was briefed by attendees on Romney’s Friday comments. “And he said that in a room with 30 people. That is a different degree of intensity.”…

“Frankly, he has been bypassed by Jeb,” said Doug Gross, Romney’s 2008 Iowa campaign chairman and longtime Bush ally. “The time for Governor Romney has probably passed. He has already lost twice. The jury is very much out on whether Republican voters would go with him again.”…

“If you put Romney and Bush head to head, I think Romney probably wins that fight,” [Ed] Rollins said. “Nobody is wholesale walking away from him. The donor base and operatives are still there. Bush thought he’d have an open field to easily beat Christie. Romney, if he gets in, changes that plan.”

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Republicans say Mitt Romney would start the GOP race as one of the favorites if he ran for a president for a third time but would face a much bigger challenge to win the nomination than he did in 2012. And, they warn, he would still not be guaranteed to be elected president, particularly if Hillary Clinton is the Democrats’ candidate…

“I think the world of Mitt Romney. If Jeb weren’t on the ballot, he would be a near lock to be the Republicans’ nominee and he is still probably either a favorite or among the favorites,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist who was on Romney’s finance committee in 2012 but said he will likely back Bush if the former governor opts to run. “If they both choose to run, it’s a good thing for the Republican Party.”…

“But from my perspective, I think you have a lot of great candidates this time and a new face or even Jeb Bush is probably a better run at it,” Rollins added. “A lot of people were disappointed in the Romney campaign, and I’m not sure Hillary Clinton will be an easier candidate to run against than Obama.”

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But even some of his past supporters are skeptical of his ability to run for president again.

“Romney is history to me. Been there done that,” said John Moran, retired chairman of a large New York-based private investment company and major Republican fund-raiser who raised money for Romney in 2012. “I think the party will look for a new face.”

“I won’t say that Jeb Bush has got it in the bag,” he added. “But almost.”…

“I have great affection for Mitt and Ann. I spent a lot of time and money and effort trying to get him elected,” Sembler said. “But I’m not sitting around waiting. And I think that’s the way a lot of people are.”

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Romney drew flak for his overtures to the right in 2012, especially on the subject of immigration. Bush has criticized the way Romney allowed himself to be defined negatively by Democrats during that campaign. Democrats at the time cast Romney, who made a fortune in the financial sector, as a heartless businessman.

Romney, in turn, has argued privately that Bush, should he run in 2016, will face some of the same criticism over his own extensive business ties. Bush has recently taken steps to reduce his private sector links. And Bush allies privately point out that Romney made his business record as a private equity executive a centerpiece of his rationale for running, something the former Florida governor isn’t planning to do.

At Friday’s gathering, there was a consensus among Romney supporters that he needs to reintroduce himself to the voters, in a complimentary way like the video aired about him at the GOP convention in 2012. Romney responded by saying that the damaging portraits of him are now old news and therefore less harmful.

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2. Romney does well across the party.

In a recent Monmouth University survey, Romney had a +28 percentage point net favorable rating (favorable – unfavorable) with non-tea partyers, and a +19 percentage point net favorable rating with tea partiers. That 9 percentage-point gap between the two groups was the smallest for any candidate. The average difference was 24 percentage points.

In other words, Romney has reason to think that he can unite the different portions of the party in a way that others cannot

5. Romney has reason to think he can win the general election.

The national polls are mixed for Romney. Many show him well behind Hillary Clinton, while some show him to close or slightly ahead. Romney is in dead heats with Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Moreover, President Obama remains unpopular. While his approval ratings have inched up, Obama is still, at best, at 45 percent. That’s not a death knell for Clinton, but it does give the 2016 GOP nominee a real shot at winning.

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“My argument was that 60 million people already voted for this guy,” Zwick said. “He has the experience, he has the background, he has the skill set. My view is if we’re going to beat Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren or whoever they nominate, we have to find somebody who can not only get through the primary, but who knows he can do the job. I don’t see somebody in the [Republican] field who has the skill set he does. My view is he has to do this.”…

“Look, Jeb’s a good guy. I think the governor likes Jeb,” the adviser said. “But Jeb is Common Core, Jeb is immigration, Jeb has been talking about raising taxes recently. Can you imagine Jeb trying to get through a Republican primary? Can you imagine what Ted Cruz is going to do to Jeb Bush? I mean, that’s going to be ugly.”

The adviser added that aside from Bush, Romney doesn’t believe any of the Republicans in the field are ready to take on Hillary Clinton in the general election.

“He’s not going to be intimidated by Bill Clinton sitting in the front row of a debate, looking at him,” the adviser said of Romney. “His dad has run for president. He’s run before.”

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[Chuck Todd]: Let me put it this way. If Mitt Romney gets in, then this was a good day to be Rand Paul.

[Hugh Hewitt]: Possibly, although I actually don’t think Romney would join the debates. I think he would stand aside and say to the 14 people on the stage, you know who I am.

CT: Yeah, you go enjoy yourselves.

HH: Yeah, go enjoy yourself. I’ve been there and I’ve done that, and I’ll let the primary voters…

CT: Well Hugh, it’s funny you say this. Here’s what I was told about where Romney’s head is at. He is not going to run through the gauntlet again. He’s not going to do Iowa and New Hampshire. What he wants to do is basically be there ready to take the nomination when the party totally is on the verge of, they can’t decide who to be with – is it Huckabee, is it Paul, is it Jeb, and then in March or April of ’16, he says okay, you know, you know I can raise the billion and a half dollars. You know that I’m not going to mess this up. I know what I’m doing. But that’s basically the turf he’s trying to carve out. I just think Jeb has just made it that much harder for him.

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What he sees — and wants to stop — is the momentum in the major donor community toward former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been the most aggressive potential candidate in the 2016 field since the 2014 midterms ended. Bush, according to one report, has set a goal of raising $100 million over the first three months of 2015 in hopes of convincing lots of other candidates that making the race is a fool’s errand.

By making very clear that he’s on the fence about another race, Romney freezes some not-insignificant portion of the Republican major donor base — especially in New York and New Jersey. Rather than signing on with Jeb in the next weeks or months, many of those money men and women will wait to see what Romney does before doing anything.

So, Romney is really buying himself — and, whether intentionally or not, the rest of the potential field — some time. He’s taking the Bush pot off of boil and turning it down to simmer.

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Members of Romney’s inner circle remain skeptical that the two-time Republican presidential contender will make a third bid for the White House, even after he told top Republican donors Friday that he was weighing another try for the Oval Office in 2016…

“Say what you want about the 2012 campaign, but it was a professional operation. This feels like it’s being winged,” says a senior Republican strategist who has worked closely with Romney on the timing of the leak. “They’re winging it right now.”…

Bush and Romney are not close. Romney aides noted Friday that Bush waited until well after the Florida primary to endorse the nominee in 2012, and his recent criticism of Romney’s performance during the race rankled loyalists. “The message here to Jeb is ‘slow your roll,’” says one senior Romney veteran. “There are donors who are very protective of Mitt and don’t like to see him treated this way.”

One Republican consultant suggests that posturing over a possible campaign was a way to signal that he wouldn’t cede automatically donors or staff to Bush. “Money for some is more important than policy,” says the consultant.

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But perhaps the most compelling argument against another campaign by the well-regarded financial turnaround artist is that in the years since he last ran, the economy has actually turned around. Look no further than the monthly jobs report released by the Labor Department on Friday, which showed the unemployment rate had dropped to a six-year low of 5.6 percent and that employers added an average of 289,000 jobs during the final quarter of 2014. Of course, the economy is far from perfect, and potential candidates of both parties are rightly focused on the lack of strong wage growth and persistent income inequality. Yet as Romney showed so clearly in 2012, the wealthy founder of Bain Capital is not the leader for a populist time, especially when inequality is expected to be the dominant economic issue of the election.

The Romney 2016 boomlet first emerged toward the end of President Obama’s “lost year” of 2013, when a cascade of foreign crises and continued gridlock in Congress led to polls showing buyer’s remorse. Those foreign crises have not entirely abated, of course, and Romney’s once-mocked statement that Russia was the U.S.’s “number one geopolitical foe” still looks pretty prescient. But the economic recovery that helped reelect Obama in 2012 accelerated to an expansion in 2014. That 5.6 percent unemployment rate? It’s now lower after two years than the 6 percent Romney promised to achieve in four…

[A]t a time when the economy is strengthening and could be genuinely strong by the time the first primary votes are cast, what is the rationale for Romney’s third bid for the White House?

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The question Romney needs to answer, and the question I don’t think he can, is why take another shot

I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Romney is someone who has an innate sense that he would make a good president, and so whenever anything is happening he has a feeling that America would be better if he were in the Oval Office. It’s not that he really has any particular ideas or policies that he wants to implement; he just believes we’d all be better off if whatever policies we do implement went through him first. 

So far, a majority of American voters have yet to agree.