It can be said that the fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination began a few weeks ago when former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney announced that he would not be a candidate.
Not long before the call to potential supporters of a third White House bid, Romney very much sounded like an interested contender.
Romney maintained a high media profile, making himself available to reporters and stumping for Republican congressional candidates in the 2014 midterms.
A source connected to Republican money men in the northeast confirmed that Romney had signaled for many of his past donors to hold out investing in other candidates as he weighed a run.
In mid-January Romney was the featured speaker at a Republican National Committee event on the USS Midway in San Diego, glad-handling with party leaders from across the nation whose support would be helpful in the event he sought the nomination a third time.
The 2012 GOP presidential standard bearer later teased the crowd about speculation that he was thinking about avenging a previous defeat before declaring tongue-in-cheek that he was not interested in running for the US Senate in Massachusetts (as he had done in 1994) before admitting that he and his wife Ann were exploring another White House bid.
As the media frenzy fed by favorable poll numbers about Romney 3.0 reached its peak at the end of January, the candidate suddenly pulled the plug.
When announcing his decision, Romney boasted that he would have been the strongest candidate in the Republican field, leading surveys in the early primary/caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. And there’s no denying a Romney campaign would have been well-financed and enjoyed a broad voter support against a badly divided field.
And even this one time fervent Romney critic would have conceded that he would have been the favorite for the party nomination- after all tens of millions of Republicans had already voted for him in the last general election.
Furthermore, a Romney candidacy would have all but scuttled presidential bids by Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, tapping their establishment support.
However, the path to the Republican nomination would not have been smoothly paved.
While the number of debates has been (wrongly) attributed to the prolonged nature of the 2012 Republican nomination contest, the truth of the matter is that the party base had a hard time embracing Romney.
At the outset of the 2012 nomination battle, Time magazine mocked the reluctance of Republicans to quickly unite behind his candidacy with a cover story featuring his picture alongside the facetious question “Why Don’t They Like Me?”. That particular issue continues to irk Romney.
The early rounds of Romney ’16 would have been Romney ’12 put on trial as the failings of a presidential nominee that tend to get swept aside with the gracious concession speech would have been thoroughly reexamined and exploited.
Double Down: Game Change 2012, journalists Mark Halperin and John Heileman’s book chronicling the 2012 presidential election, reads like an indictment and leads one to think that had Romney run a business like he ran his campaign, he would have ended up filing for bankruptcy.
Ugly cracks Team Romney made about Christie’s weight would have been recycled, the parade of gaffes looped, and the candidate’s amazing tolerance for gross incompetence by key staff would have been less than reassuring that the third try would have worked out any better than the first and second.
And then there is Tom Dewey.
If you don’t know who he was, you would have heard all about him had Romney run, specifically Dewey’s failure to live up to the perceived inevitability that surrounded his 1948 presidential candidacy that led to the most infamous newspaper headline in the history of print media.
The ghost of the New York moderate who tanked twice as a GOP presidential nominee would have haunted the Romney 2016 effort.
The unkind comparisons between Romney and Dewey were already being made, including/ironically by members of Team Jeb.
But since Romney stood down, the little man can stand on his wedding cake in peace now.
Romney made two correct decisions, in his conclusion and just as important in his timing.
A third Romney campaign would have been hard on the party and his family, especially his wife who is battling multiple sclerosis.
His departure from the field has freed up political oxygen in terms of money and media exposure for other candidates, especially those whose lasts names are not Paul or Bush.
And for this service, Republicans should be most grateful to non-candidate Romney.