We’ve now reached Stage Three, the intervention stage, of the “Mitt 2016” process. Stage One was the ignore stage. Sure, some reporters were chirping that Romney was thinking of running again, but reporters chirp about lots of things. Mitt has a good head on his shoulders. He knows he can’t win in a truly competitive field. If asked about him, be warm and complimentary. He’s a nice guy and deserves no less. Stage Two was the “this isn’t really happening, is it?” stage. The rumors had grown louder; Romney confidants were conceding he might run again — but only if Jeb Bush failed to launch, only if the party was divided and needed a savior consensus candidate late in the game. Bush would launch, though, and Romney would come to his senses and see that adding another centrist to the field would only increase the chances of a right-winger stealing the nomination. Keep on being complimentary, but maybe add a word or two about Mitt being wise enough to know his time has passed. Fast-forward another month or two and here we are with Romney now ready to move early and siphon off as much wealthy support from Jeb, the new great establishment hope, as he can. No more compliments at this point beyond the perfunctory “he’s a good man, but…” Time for some tough love about his chances.

He’s going to address the RNC’s winter meeting tonight. The reception will be polite and … not much more.

At the Republican National Committee winter meeting in San Diego, many of the roughly 300 activists in attendance said Romney had his chance. A third bid would also buck historical trends. Only one presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, lost a presidential race, as he did in 1960 to John F. Kennedy, to go on to win the White House in a later race. Nixon won the 1968 presidential election.

“Mitt Romney. He didn’t run his campaign right against Obama. He flubbed it. Another Romney candidacy would be a complete disaster, and I don’t think he’ll even get there,” said Bill Eastland, a Republican party member from Texas…

One Republican strategist, who is hedging bets against candidates this early in the race and so wanted to speak on the condition of anonymity, said: “We hear he is getting his old team back. We are all really concerned because his old team didn’t do such a great job last time. Everyone I talk to says he had his chance, and his chance has gone. They are desperate for someone new. And what would he do different this time?”

More from Politico:

In interviews this week with nearly a dozen committee members — the people who compose the most active and powerful core of the party apparatus — nearly all expressed deep skepticism about a third Romney White House bid. The sentiment was unambigious: The GOP needs to find a new candidate to carry the party past its painful 2012 loss and back to the White House.

“He had a great opportunity last time and I personally want a fresh face,” said Roger Villere, the Louisiana Republican Party chairman. “What’s going to be different this time?”

“I have not detected a groundswell of support for him,” added Rob Gleason, the Pennsylvania GOP chairman.

Why would there be a groundswell of support for a guy who underperformed twice while running for president against weak fields when the GOP’s looking at its strongest field in decades? Peggy Noonan was at the joint House-Senate GOP retreat in Pennsylvania this week and says she detected no “Mitt-mentum” whatsoever. Watch below and you’ll find Vin Weber, a top Republican advisor who worked on both of Romney’s previous campaigns, admitting he’s unhappy to see Mitt ready to jump in again. We’re at an odd point in the “Mitt 2016” trajectory right now, I think: After many months of Romney being unlikely to run, the odds jumped up sharply after Jeb Bush announced his candidacy, and now they’ve probably fallen, if only a bit, as Romney gets blasted from people across the establishment warning him not to do it. I think he’s still going to do it, but I’ll bet there’s more doubt in his mind than there was last week.

Lots of righties are celebrating Romney’s mad dash into the race for strategic reasons — the more RINOs there are, the more the RINO vote will be divided. I’ve made that point myself, but maybe we’re all wrong. Philip Klein reminds us that the GOP’s donor class is all about transactional politics. They may prefer Bush to Romney and Romney to Christie, but they’ll sacrifice any two of those guys to the other if they conclude that it increases their chances of winning. That being so, it’s hard to imagine them remaining divided among Bush, Christie, and Romney all the way up to Iowa and especially New Hampshire. You can imagine Rand Paul and Ted Cruz being deadlocked at 25 percent apiece in Iowa because their bases believe devoutly in their respective candidates on ideological grounds and won’t budge. Establishmentarians see it as more of a numbers game: If Jeb, Chris, and Mitt are all essentially fungible, it’s stupid to let the center-right divide among them. That’s why I asked a few days ago if Romney’s campaign will survive until New Hampshire — if he’s lagging behind Bush in the polls later this year, there’ll be tremendous pressure on his supporters to jump ship and force him out before the big vote so that he doesn’t hurt Jeb.

The “real” centrist primary, in other words, should be over by fall of this year, with two of the big three gradually abandoned by their donors in an effort to unite the middle. The reason wealthy Republicans might tolerate a Romney candidacy until then is because they could be wrong and Mitt could be right in thinking he has enough leftover support among Republican voters from 2012 to keep Bush and Christie at bay. If that’s what ends up happening, the latter two men’s boosters will peel off and unite behind Mitt before the voting starts in the name of unity. Reminds me of the old joke about two campers being chased by a bear, where one says to the other, “I don’t need to outrun the bear, I only need to outrun you.” Romney doesn’t need to outrun the entire field early on so long as he outruns Bush and Christie, in which case the establishment bear will gobble them up and leave him as the undisputed 40-45 percent center-right champion before New Hampshire. If his rivals’ backers end up supporting him grudgingly, that’s okay by him. He’s as transactional as they are.