Peace in our time: Romney, Bush set to huddle next week in Utah

Good lord. It’s like a RINO Yalta. Might as well invite Christie too; someone needs to sit in the Stalin seat in the inevitable group photo.

Only the GOP, with a field of power hitters like Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Rand Paul, could plausibly allow its next presidential nominee to be decided by a tete-a-tete between Bush III and the guy who got bombed in 2012. I don’t know why the donor class even bothers putting forth candidates anymore. They should nominate the Chamber of Commerce as an entity for the presidency and let it rule by committee if elected.

The most noteworthy detail here is that the meeting was scheduled before Romney started making noise about running again. Jeb was going to come to Utah, kiss Mitt’s ass personally, and hope that he’d find Bush suitable to inherit his throne as establishment champion. That was a fair expectation: Until about two months ago, every story on Romney’s intentions towards 2016 suggested that he was, allegedly, prepared to let Jeb Bush have a sort of right of first refusal. Only if Jeb passed, leaving the donor class stuck with a weak contender like Christie against a group of formidable conservatives, would Romney heroically permit himself to be drafted. Bush probably figured at the time that this meeting was a formality, a chance to commiserate with Mitt about the great tea-party scourge and then have Romney quietly pledge his endorsement. In the end, Romney couldn’t even wait to hear him out before signaling his own intentions to run again.

Mr. Bush proposed the meeting, according to one of the party members familiar with the planning, who did not want to be quoted by name in discussing a secret meeting.

The original idea was for Mr. Bush, who announced his presidential ambitions in December, to show his respect for Mr. Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee. The meeting stayed on both men’s calendars even as Mr. Romney took steps to test the presidential waters, moves that could make the meeting awkward…

Both men have been making a flurry of phone calls to Republican donors and officials to sound them out and gather commitments ahead of what could be a bruising primary race.

What’s going to happen now? People were half-joking on Twitter last night that this might hatch a Romney/Bush or Bush/Romney ticket, but there’s no way. Romney’s not going to accept a demotion to VP nominee and Bush isn’t going to disrupt his entire life to hitch his wagon to a guy who got blown out three years ago. What’ll happen, I assume, is that Bush will apologize profusely for offending Romney by being too aggressive in trying to line up donors at a moment when Mitt was still considering whether to run. He should have been more deferential because, I guess, that’s what Romney’s ego demands. Hearing that after spending the last 10 days being told by nearly everyone in the GOP that he shouldn’t run again might be enough to convince Romney to pass on the race after all. Bush could also offer him some sort of plum surrogate role for his campaign too to sweeten the pot. By all accounts, Romney greatly enjoyed the attention he got on the trail campaigning for GOP candidates before the midterms. It must have been nice, after being slammed as a loser who ran a crappy race two years earlier, to find himself in demand among the party’s new Senate stars. Jeb could pledge that, if Mitt will support him now, he’d become Bush 2016’s surrogate-in-chief — lots of TV interviews, lots of rallies, and maybe a cabinet position (Treasury secretary?) if he’s up for it. Frankly, Romney should take that deal. It’s as close as he’ll get to the White House.

But he probably won’t because, let’s face it, running for president is his full-time job now. He’s been running since 2006; he’s convinced himself, in classic consultant style, that the key to victory is simply finding the right brand of conservatism to match the country’s changing moods. If he believes that, why cede the field to Jeb? Especially when Bush’s numbers look like this:

Further, registered voters by a 13-point margin say the fact that Clinton would be the first female president makes them more likely rather than less likely to support her. Her husband having served as president is another net positive, by an 8-point margin.

Those results stand in contrast to Bush’s and Romney’s backgrounds. The fact that his brother and father held the office is a net negative for Bush by a broad 25 percentage points; a third of registered voters say it makes them less likely to support him for president. And Romney’s having run as the Republican nominee three years ago is a 14-point net negative for him.

Bush has more baggage than Romney does, in which case why not roll the dice on Mitt 4.0, anti-poverty warrior, and hope for the best? If it doesn’t work, Mitt 5.0 is just four short years away.