Mitt Romney's terrible timing

One could argue he’s got that backwards. The natural pattern of presidential elections suggests that Democrats are the underdogs in the 2016 race—a party seldom holds on to the White House after two terms, and Nate Cohn notes that current economic models would suggest a Democratic popular vote of 48.5 percent. If Romney could have won the Republican nomination, he might have been able to realize his dream of becoming commander in chief.

But just as circumstances seemed to conspire to produce the perfect moment for Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush pulled the rug out from under him. In mid-December, Bush announced his decision to run, assuming the mantle of moderate, establishment candidate from Romney. Since then, some of the people who staffed Romney’s campaign, and many of those who helped fund it, have attached themselves to a Bush campaign. On Thursday, operative David Kochel, who ran Romney’s Iowa strategy in both previous campaigns, went to work for Bush in a presumptive campaign-manager role. NBC News even reports that some of the people invited to join Romney’s Friday call were already committed to work for Bush.

Winning the nomination with Bush in the race would have been very challenging for Romney, despite his sanguine statement. Romney holds a commanding lead in RealClearPolitics’ average for the Republican primaries, and a breathtaking 16-point edge on HuffPost Pollster’s average. But as political watchers have noted, polling at this stage isn’t a reliable gauge of very much. Given Romney’s name-recognition and the fact that most people aren’t tuned into the race—it’s only January 2015, after all—it’s only mildly surprising that he rose to the top. Many leading Republicans, including RNC Chair Reince Priebus, tried to throw cold water on the idea of third Romney campaign.

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