Having followed Romney around in both 2008 and 2012, I was always convinced that the odds of him running in 2016 were high. For one thing, the man has a decades-long history of running for office, over and over, even after voters reject him. He’s a career politician without a “career” in politics. (He was an active governor of Massachusetts just long enough to build Romneycare, and after that he spent the rest of his term preparing for his first presidential bid.) He has never in his life—not once—shown a willingness to take “no” for an answer from the electorate. Running for office is what he does.
The other thing that struck me was that Romney really wanted to be president. A lot. The reasons for this desire weren’t immediately obvious. He has—clearly—very few deeply-held political convictions. He has—again, clearly—no Big Ideas about ways in which he wants to lead the country. The sense I always got (and this might be incorrect—I’m not his rabbi) was that Mitt Romney wanted to be president because he wanted to be president. And when the impulse to run is yoked to personal ambition and removed from politics, philosophy, or the world of ideas—well, that sort of yearning dies hard. Which is why, in January of 2012, I started saying that if Romney wasn’t elected president, I expected he would try again in 2016.
Another reason I’d become more, rather than less, convinced that Romney 2016 would happen is that the topography of next year’s race has become encouraging for him. He does very well on all of the buyer’s remorse polls showing that people wish he’d been elected president. He’s been proved substantively—and decisively—correct on the foreign-policy portion of that campaign—Russia, Libya, Syria, and all the rest. And if Hillary Clinton winds up as the Democratic nominee, then the most obvious criticism of a Romney 2016 campaign—that it’s time to look forward, not backward—becomes harder for Democrats to make.
If you’re Mitt Romney and you’re studying the 2016 cycle with an eye to possibly running, then you might think the stars are aligning just for you.
In a way, even Jeb Bush’s early declaration probably acted to nudge Romney closer to running. If the Republican field had remained amorphous, Romney might have moved more slowly in making a decision—and with all decision points, the longer you wait, the more you inherently favor the status quo. But Bush jumped, the field suddenly began to gel, and that provided an impetus for Romney to make a decision sooner, rather than later.
On top of all that, as a political commodity Bush was genetically engineered to entice Romney to run. Like Romney, Bush has no obvious political or philosophical raison d’être for running—he’s an answer to a question no one is asking. Like Romney, he’s a creature of the establishment. And unlike any other possible candidate for the Republican nomination, Bush is the one guy who can’t argue that Romney is “the past.” Because Bush is from a political vintage even older than Romney’s.
Again, if you’re Mitt Romney looking at the race, Jeb Bush charts as a more ideologically exposed, less relevant version of yourself. Why wouldn’t you challenge him?
As always, nothing is for sure until it happens. Romney could still back away from the race. But at this point, I’d put the odds at better-than-even that he runs.
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Lots of conservatives seem dismayed by the idea of Romney 2016. (In the media, at least, the most negative reactions seem to have come from people who were firmly in the tank for him the last time around. Weird, right?) But I’m kind of excited by it. As Ben Domenech chortled last September, “Romney 2016 is real and it’s spectacular.” (A reference to what might be the greatest Seinfeld scene ever.)
Last week a friend emailed me to point out this paragraph, buried in a Boston Globe story, about Romney’s embryonic campaign: