Romney: I might not endorse anyone for president next year

You’re reading that headline and thinking, “WHO CARES?” But that’s Romney’s point. Who the hell pays attention to endorsements? They almost never matter. Mitt endorsing or not endorsing Trump won’t change a single vote in a country of 300 million people. Literally no one will care.

Except one person. And the fact that he cares means his fans will be forced to sort of care too, no?

Anyway, enjoy this as the closest Willard Mitt Romney will ever get to trolling someone:

“I don’t think endorsements are worth a thimble of spit,” the Republican former presidential candidate told reporters during an annual gathering of political leaders, wealthy donors and powerful businesspeople in the Utah ski-resort town of Park City. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I stay out of the endorsements.”

Romney wrote in the name of his wife, Ann, on his 2016 ballot and said Tuesday, “I still think she’s doing a fine job.”

Jake Tapper asked him last month about endorsing Trump as well. Romney dodged, adding:

“I think he could substantially improve his game when it comes to helping shape the character of the country,” Romney said, reiterating his pledge to speak up when he disagrees with Trump.

He also pointed out that he believes “young people as well as people around the world look at the president of the United States and say, ‘Does he exhibit the kind of qualities that we would want to emulate?'”

I’m guessing whether he endorses depends on who Trump’s opponent is. The more the Democratic nominee’s politics lend themselves to a “Flight 93 election” argument, the more pressure Romney will face to be a team player. If it’s Biden, with Dems offering the same ol’ Clintonesque center-left oatmeal, maybe Mitt sits out like he did in 2016. If it’s Bernie, with the GOP mobilizing to hold off the rising tide of socialism, possibly Romney throws in with Trump as the lesser evil.

I said up top that endorsements almost never matter but I should stress the “almost” part. I can think of several endorsements that mattered to presidential elections I’ve covered at HA. Chris Christie’s endorsement of Trump in 2016 kind of mattered, I’d argue, because it semi-officially signaled that Trump was a serious threat to win the nomination. Christie was the first big-name establishmentarian to get behind him, and establishmentarians tend not to waste their endorsements on fringey characters who can’t win. His support lent Trump a sense of legitimacy that he didn’t have before; suddenly the game-show host was the choice of the twice-elected governor of New Jersey. In retrospect it was the very first sign of Trump’s eventual total domination of the party.

Christie’s endorsement influenced the media coverage and conventional wisdom more so than it influenced voter opinion, I suspect, but I can think of endorsements that influenced voter opinion too. In 2008, both Ted Kennedy and Oprah almost certainly drove some Democratic primary voters towards Obama. Remember the narrative of that race: Hillary was the establishment choice, the next in line, world famous, whereas Obama was the young exciting longshot with a pipe dream about becoming the first black president. Hillary led big early, even among black Democrats, due to the perception that Obama had no chance. The more that perception changed, the more it snowballed: As Obama rose in the polls and drew some prominent endorsements, voters who liked him but were skeptical of his chances began to believe and switched to him from Hillary. Oprah endorsed him a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses; Kennedy endorsed him a few weeks after. Having two living legends in their respective fields back him was all he needed to prove that he was for real. He never looked back.

All of which is to say, whether it’s Christie endorsing Trump or Oprah and Teddy endorsing Obama, endorsements can matter by injecting mainstream credibility into a dark-horse “outsider” candidate’s campaign. But in the case of Romney and Trump, where one’s a sitting president who enjoys something like 94 percent approval within his party? Nah. Doesn’t matter even a little bit.

I’ll leave you with this clip recorded a billion trillion years ago in an alternate universe. In hindsight, this was an early display of Trump’s political acumen. Romney palpably didn’t care about Trump’s endorsement or even want it, given that his chief influence within the GOP at the time was as the country’s most outspoken Birther, but he knew that Trump would attack him relentlessly in interviews and on Twitter if he insulted Trump by rejecting his support. So he took the path of least resistance by showing up and accepting it, reluctantly, to spare himself a headache. I think he’s been trying to atone ever since. Oh, and by the way: If you’re still thinking “WHO CARES?” about Romney’s non-endorsement, click here and keep scrolling. Some people sure do seem to.