Scout’s honor: Not until today, having read the words of the man himself, have I sincerely believed he might run again. The RomneyWatch™ posts are fun to write but not because Mitt 2016 was a real thing — I thought. They were fun because it wasn’t a real thing. It was a way to collectively pretend-scare ourselves, like playing with a ouija board.
Now, suddenly, I look down and the planchette is moving by itself. And it spells M-I-T-T.
A recent column by the conservative pundit Byron York noted that Romney had kept in close contact with many of his advisers and aides. As we spoke, Romney compared the barrage of 2016-related questions to a scene in the film “Dumb and Dumber.” After Jim Carrey’s character is flatly rejected by Lauren Holly, she tells him that there’s a one-in-a-million chance she would change her mind. “So,” Romney told me, embodying the character, “Jim Carrey says, ‘You’re telling me there’s a chance.’ ”
This was the obvious opening for me to ask if there was a chance. Romney’s response was decidedly meta — “I have nothing to add to the story” — but he then fell into the practiced political parlance of nondenial. “We’ve got a lot of people looking at the race,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Being prompted to comment on York’s story was obviously Romney’s opportunity to say “heck no” and be done with this. Instead he said the opposite. Not only is he thinking about running, he actually wants it known that he’s thinking about it. Which makes me wonder: Why? Why concede his interest in the race instead of being coy? No one thinks he and Jeb are going to run against each other; one of them will run, in which case the other won’t. If Romney’s signaling to his donors this early that Mitt 3.0 is a possibility, it makes me think that maybe he’s heard through the grapevine that Bush isn’t going to run after all, in which case there’ll be a feeding frenzy among the rest of the field to snap up the people who bankrolled the 2012 campaign. By pushing this out there now, Romney’s warning them not to commit to Christie or Rubio or Walker just yet. The big guy is still in the mix.
Does this sound like a man who’s at peace with his retirement? I ask you.
No matter how content he appeared, when the conversation turned to his disappointment in losing, his voice dropped. “It really kills me,” he said. “It really kills me.” He became inaudible, and it seemed as if he might tear up.
As if to rescue him, Ann called out from the kitchen that lunch was ready. Mitt remained in the living room, now staring at the floor. “The consequences of my loss are very clear to me and to a lot of people,” he said. “And that’s really hard.”
In the same conversation, he said he was more passionate about foreign policy than voters realized in 2012 and blamed Hillary, his would-be opponent in 2016, for being an “enabler” of the Hopenchange disaster abroad. Clearly, the guy wants to run. Whether he runs is a different question, but of course not an unrelated one. And here’s something else to bear in mind: Romney’s many friends in the GOP establishment are doubtless watching conservative reaction to this little media trial balloon about him running again and … that reaction hasn’t been bad so far, honestly. Some righties are in “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO” mode, but more than I would have guessed seem to have come around to “he’s not my first choice but I learned to like him during the last campaign and would probably prefer him to Bush or Christie.” Romneyites can live with that. It ain’t just my hand on that ouija planchette, you know.
One early warning sign of Romney 3.0’s problems, though: If you read the full NYT piece linked above, you’ll see that he tries to explain the “47 percent” comment that hurt him late in the campaign. His explanation is that he was, er, just telling some donor what he wanted to hear. The guy was rambling at him, Romney claims, and he was trying to placate him. Not only is that apparently not true, but it’ll never fly as spin for voters who were alienated by the remark. In fact, it may not fly with conservatives either. One of the big problems with Romney for the right, per his reputation for flip-flopping, is that he’s too quick to tell people what they want to hear. (Except on RomneyCare!)
Exit quotation: Sorry, but I can’t resist. “’Mike [Huckabee] has always thought 2016 would be his cycle,’ said [Ed] Rollins, who advised Huckabee’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. ‘I think he’s getting ready to go. Every sign out there is that he’s thinking hard about it
Update: Fair point:
“I think Romney really likes where he is right now,” said the former aide. “He’s saying, ‘Wow — I ran and I lost and I’m still held in high esteem’ … He’s really taken aback by that. He wants to bottle that.”
And to run would, probably, be to give that up for good.
“Wouldn’t it be truly pathetic if on his third time he doesn’t even win the nomination?” asked the former aide. “Then he does have the ‘L’ and he’s truly truly a diminished figure.
Okay, but that’s an argument for why he shouldn’t run, not an argument that he won’t.