Mitt Romney 2016? Maybe More Likely Than We’ve Been Thinking

While it still seems unlikely that he'll run, Mitt Romney does seem to be leaving the door open to a third run at the White House.


Washington Examiner’s Byron York reports that Mitt Romney and many of his top advisers are not ruling out the idea of a third try at the White House:

Is Mitt Romney, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination and lost in 2008, ran again and won the nomination but lost the general election in 2012, really thinking about running yet again for president in 2016? Many Republicans have simply assumed not. Romney has seemed to discourage such talk in media appearances, and there has been a general belief that after losing as the party’s nominee, the 67 year-old Romney would return to private life for good.

That belief is wrong. Romney is talking with advisers, consulting with his family, keeping a close eye on the emerging ’16 Republican field, and carefully weighing the pluses and minuses of another run. That doesn’t mean he will decide to do it, but it does mean that Mitt 2016 is a real possibility.

Nearly all of Romney’s 2012 circle of advisers, finance people, and close aides remains intact. Many developed an extraordinary loyalty to Romney, who, in turn, has kept in close touch with them. Romney talks to some of them quite frequently in conversations that cover daily news, foreign and domestic policy, Hillary Clinton, the Republican field — everything that might touch on a 2016 campaign. “Virtually the entire advisory group that surrounded Mitt in 2012 are eager for him to run, almost to a man and a woman,” says one plugged-in member of Romneyland.

A significant number of Romney’s top financial supporters from 2012 have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney. They believe they are doing it with the tacit approval of Romney himself. “Spencer Zwick has never said specifically to everyone to keep your powder dry,” says the plugged-in supporter, referring to Romney’s former finance chairman who remains very close to Romney. “But the body language, the intonation, and the nuance are absolutely there.”


At the moment, Romney is doing the kind of things a candidate might do at this stage in a race. He is working closely with Sen. Rob Portman, vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to campaign for GOP candidates trying to win Senate control. He is appearing some — but not too much — on television. He is keeping his hand in things.

The key question for Romney, according to those who have talked to him, is whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decides to run. Romney is said to believe that, other than himself, Bush is the only one of the current Republican field who could beat Hillary Clinton in a general election. If Bush jumps in the race, this line of thinking goes, Romney would not run. But if Bush stays out — well, Romney’s wife Ann raised more hopes in Romneyland during a conversation this week with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto:

CAVUTO: One scenario out there, Mrs. Romney, is that Jeb Bush doesn’t run after all, and your husband will size up the landscape and that a lot of his supporters, past and present, said, you have the name recognition, you have the Reagan example of the third time was the charm for him, and that it’s been done before.

ROMNEY: Mm-hmm.

CAVUTO: And — and that would be appealing.

ROMNEY: Well, we will see, won’t we, Neil?

Ann Romney went on to say that she thinks Bush will end up running, and if he did, he “would draw on a very similar base that we would draw on.” But Romney’s supporters saw her remarks as just another indication Romney is seriously thinking about running. And even if Bush decides to run, some Romney supporters who would otherwise be inclined to go with Bush would still want the go-ahead from Romney first.

The idea of a third shot at the Presidency by Romney, something that would certainly be unprecedented in the modern era for anyone other than a crank candidate that never had a realistic shot at winning their parties nomination, much less the General Election, (i.e., Ron Paul). Thomas Dewey ran for, and won the Republican nomination in 1944 and 1948, and briefly tested the waters in 1952 before Dwight Eisenhower entered the race. Adalai Stevenson II won the Democratic nomination in 1952 and 1956 and made party insiders know that he would be open to a draft at the convention in 1960 even though he didn’t actively campaign for the nomination. And, of course, most famously, Richard Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 Presidential election, and then the 1962 California Governor’s Election, only to come back in 1968 and win the White House just four years after one of the GOP’s worst Electoral College defeats in history. Dewey and Stevenson, of course, were running in an era before primaries became the means by which candidates won party nominations, so their ability to secure multiple nominations and still remain credible candidates for a third nod aren’t entirely unsurprising. It’s worth remembering, for example, that William Jennings Bryan secured the Democratic nomination for President three separate times between 1896 and 1908. Nixon’s example is slightly different since he ran at a time when primaries were becoming a more important part of the party nomination process. However, as James Joyner pointed out in July, Mitt Romney is no Richard Nixon. For one thing, Nixon was a lifelong politician with a long resume of public service even when he was named Eisenhower’s running mater in 1952, and even more so by the time he ran for President in 1960 and 1968. Outside of one four year term as Governor of Massachusetts, for which he did not stand for re-election in no small part because it was clear that he likely would have lost, Romney’s only real political experience lies in running for President twice and losing.  That’s not a very impressive resume, and it’s not really a basis for believing that he would be able to do something that nobody has done in nearly fifty years, and even then it was under what were arguably highly unusual circumstances.

All that being said, York does seem to be correct that, notwithstanding denials, Romeny appears to be at least leaving the door open to another run at the White House, and his supporters and financial backers seem to be sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what he might end up doing. One major sign of this, of course, can be seen in the fact that Romney has been quite active in endorsing Republicans running for office in the year and a half since losing the 2012 election. This year alone, he’s endorsed candidates in California, Michigan, Iowa, Oregon, West Virginia, New Hampshire (including in a Congressional race), New York, Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Arizona. Those are just the endorsements that I was able to find via a quick Google search, and they do seem to amount to something more than just the actions of a man who is taking on the role of elder statesman in his party. Instead, they look like the actions of someone who at least sees the value in keeping his options open.

When I initially wrote about this idea of Romney running for the nomination again earlier this year, I largely dismissed the idea due in no small part to the fact that Romney had not struck me as someone who would be all that interested in running again. We learned after the 2012 campaign was over, for example, that Romney was initially opposed to the idea of running again after coming up short in 2008 and had to be talked into it by his family. Additionally, in the weeks after the 2012 campaign it was beginning to look as though Romney would have no real impact on the GOP’s future course and no real role in shaping it. The fact that things have turned out quite a bit differently, and that Romney has remained active in the party rather than simply retiring as many, myself included, expected him to do after losing suggests that he hasn’t entirely dismissed the idea of a political future that could include another bid for the White House, under the right circumstances.

All that being said, I don’t expect to see Mitt Romney throwing his hat in the ring the way he did in 2012 or 2008. If he runs, it will happen because of the way things have unfolded in the race for the White House inside the Republican Party and because of the desire of party insiders and top-money donors to avoid handing the nomination to someone too closely associated with the Tea Party. I agree that Romney is unlikely to run if Jeb Bush does, or that at the very least the two men are likely to have a conversation at some point in the midterms are over to feel each other out about their intentions. Given the fact that both would appeal to largely the same sorts of voters, and the same sorts of donors, it wouldn’t make much sense for both of them to run and one gets the impression from York’s reporting that Romney would not want to stand in the way of Bush entering the race given the fact that he has already run twice. If Bush doesn’t run, though, or if his campaign falters, it’s not too hard to see how things could unfold in a way that lead to the return of Mitt Romney. In such a scenario, there would come an inevitable point during the 2016 election cycle (which basically will start the day after the 2014 midterms) when it will seem like every announced or potential GOP candidate is an utter failure. At that point, the Mitt Romney speculation will hit fever pitch. I would still say that it’s more likely that he doesn’t run than that he does, but I’m not willing to rule it completely out at this point either.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, 2016 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. beth says:

    When I listen to interviews with Romney and his wife, I get the feeling that they still think he was somehow “owed” the presidency and it was stolen from him. I too wouldn’t rule out his running again, even if Bush runs. He’s got that whole rich, entitled thing down pat.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Another clown for the car that is the Republican party.

  3. LaMont says:

    Romney being a potential runner in 2016 doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact I kind of expected it. You have to realize that Romney is still insulated in the bubble of people that somehow convinced him that he did not have to prepare a concession speech when it was apparent that he didn’t have much of a chance at winning the 2012 election. This guy didn’t get it then and he still has no clue today. Despite the 2014 election cycle being in favor of the GOP (due to low voter turnout), Romney probably had a better chance at winning in 2012 than he ever would in 2016.

  4. Janis Gore says:

    To run twice is optimistic. To run thrice is certifiably nuts.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    …one gets the impression from York’s reporting that Romney would not want be able to to stand in the way of Bush entering the race given the fact that he has already run twice.


  6. al-Ameda says:

    He aspires to be the Adlai Stevenson of the Republican Party.

    Well, cheerio Mitt, fire up that yacht, and have Ann lock down the car elevator as you leave.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    It’s smelled for a long time like Romney might take another shot. Lincoln said about one of his rivals something to the effect that once the presidential bug bites a man, it never lets go.

    Chuckles Krauthammer thinks Obama is narcissistic, what’s his ‘not using my years of psychiatric training to improperly make a diagnosis’ diagnosis of Romney?

    Politico quoted the Ann Romney interview. In comments I asked if there was any Republican so irrelevant that POLITICO wouldn’t stenograph their remarks. Does she have any clue that she’s a major liability were he to run?

  8. JohnMcC says:

    So we have two possible outcomes: One is that we get the opportunity to elect a third Bush. The other is that we have a third opportunity to elect Mr Romney.

    The alternative is a TeaParty related Republican presidential candidate.

    Must be a great feeling to be a Republican.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    Also, has everyone forgotten Harold Stassen? Ten ‘campaigns’ for the presidency. Mitt will be 101 when he matches that record.

  10. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Because the GOP has no one else. Nor do they have any ideas which earn majority support on the electoral college map. The same denial that could not conceive of a loss on election eve when it was clear the loss was coming drives this decision. Romney will not win any additional states, as the electoral college is baked with GOP policy that inspires no one. He would likely lose NC. GA, AZ, and perhaps even AL and IN would be in play. Until the GOP presents candidates that can articulate relevant plans for the modern era that address the needs of a complex multi-cultural nation, upon the loser heap shall it be cast. Angry self-delusion is not going to cut it.

    Ditto, Jeb.

  11. steve q says:

    I want Cruz 2016.

    Let’s Get Tea-Tarded! Let’s Get Tea-Tarded in Here!

  12. stonetools says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:

    Because the GOP has no one else.

    BINGO. Let’s be blunt. Compared to the rest of the possible 2016 Republican field, Mitt looks pretty respectable. Who’s better than him? Huckabee? Ryan? Perry?
    I’m betting he won’t run. But I also think there will a strong effort to draft him by the Republican big business establishment who have no use for a Huckabee or Santorum and who don’t think Ryan or Perry will measure up.

  13. JohnMcC says:

    @steve q: Probably you believe you’re joking. I think it’s much much more likely to be Sen Cruz than either Gov Romney or Gov Bush. The only real alternative is Sen Paul. Without conjuring up the spirit of the USS Superdestroyer, the slow self-strangulation of the Republican party continues appace. Bad candidates, bad policy and bad thinking are a syndrome; they appear together and mutually reinforce each other in a positive-feedback-loop.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    You’re brushing by Paul, Bush, and the fat fvck from Joisey.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: No reason to think it won’t go like the last couple cycles. The establishment will let the TP enjoy the Klown Kar for awhile, then they’ll buy the nomination for their guy. Candidates for their guy are pretty much Rubio (dead of immigration by his own hand), Bush (who I think wants to wait for ’20), and as you say, the fat fvck from Joisey (who’s got problems mentioned in recent Bridgegate threads.) @stonetools: is right, there is an open niche for Romney.

  16. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    The best reason I can think of for a Romney run is entirely personal–if 2016 ends up being between Clinton and Bush I’d probably have to kill myself.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    I just checked the un-skewed polling,,,,and Romney is winning by a landslide. Again.

    Also…what has Byron York ever been right about? Talk about your basic right-wing flakky.

  18. JWH says:

    I don’t see too many options for the GOP in 2016. Unless Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney steps up, the top tier is basically Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and Rand Paul.

  19. Tillman says:

    Nearly all of Romney’s 2012 circle of advisers, finance people, and close aides remains intact. Many developed an extraordinary loyalty to Romney, who, in turn, has kept in close touch with them. Romney talks to some of them quite frequently in conversations that cover daily news, foreign and domestic policy, Hillary Clinton, the Republican field — everything that might touch on a 2016 campaign. “Virtually the entire advisory group that surrounded Mitt in 2012 are eager for him to run, almost to a man and a woman,” says one plugged-in member of Romneyland.

    That’s because he never fired anyone and paid them more than anyone in Obama’s team. It’s a job you want to do, win or lose, because he’s going to give you more money than you’re worth and he’s so insulated he won’t risk popping the bubble to find people with a good grip on reality.

    This, by the way, is the charitable theory on Romneyland’s motivations. The uncharitable view is that they were all that stupid to think he’d win. His foreign policy team (remember Romney’s masterful command of foreign policy subjects on his trips abroad?) was largely cobbled together from former Bush administration staffers. That is the kind of bubble we’re talking about.

  20. Slugger says:

    I wonder about the finances of all this. The 2012 campaign cost each candidate a bit more than a billion dollars. I read criticisms of Obama for frequent fundraising, but Romney’s expenses were almost as great. Has Romney paid all of it off? Maybe, he needs to pretend to be a viable candidate in order to pay off the debt.
    Do the other Republican hopefuls have a chance to generate that kind of juice? Getting that kind of money is probably as important as any position on immigration, taxes, or even wars in the Middle East.
    Ms. Clintion has a track record of being a good money raiser. She actually had more money than Obama during the 2008 primary season and was the only candidate in our history to get beat by someone who spent less.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    @Tillman: isn’t this the guy who cut off the credit cards for the people working on his campaign without warning, leaving some of them stranded?

    I guess masochists will always find abusers….

  22. the Q says:

    A very good friend of mine who graduated from HBS was recruited by Bain Capital and spent a week under the wing of Mitt Romney. He told me way back in 2004 that Romney spoke 4 languages, was highly intelligent and would make Bill Clinton look like Boo Radley.

    My friend is a Democrat but felt that Mitt would make an excellent President. Now, remember this was 2004, so when Mitt ran, I was shocked at how much of a doofus he was.

    I ribbed my buddy, “Boy, how could you have been so wrong?” To which he replied, “the candidate Romney and the private Romney are two totally different creatures. Mitt was so afraid of fumbling and had to turn so far to the right to win the primary that he was completely not himself. His advisors turned him into a buffoonish caricature and he did nothing to correct it.”

    So maybe he runs this time a much looser, nothing to lose campaign against the very candidate that is his mirror image of a wooden, stilted, out of touch pol – Hillary.

    He will beat her I am afraid.

  23. BK says:

    I don’t think he’ll run, but hope he does. It’s time for an adult in the White House with the experience necessary to lead us out of the doldrums and reignite American optimism.

  24. Ashlee Klerk says:

    Have you not all seen with your own eyes that Mitt was right about so many things? He was mocked because of his foresight, yet he was right! Why don’t you all look at facts and forget about democrat vs republican. Look at who was right, look at who we need to bring security to this nation. Look at where we are headed. We need a strong leader like Mitt with lots of fore site to restore our nation!

  25. Tillman says:

    @the Q: As much as I can imagine the private Mitt Romney being an intelligent man, the problems he had with staff who consistently failed him that he refused to anything about (due to loyalty) mean he wouldn’t be well-suited for the presidency.

  26. anjin-san says:

    A car elevator in every garage, and a chicken in every pot…

  27. anjin-san says:

    a much looser, nothing to lose campaign

    Pretty difficult for Romney to be loose with that huge stick he has has up his ass. When he was caught in an unscripted moment in the last campaign, away from the handlers who supposedly ruined him, he came of terribly, perhaps losing the campaign in that very moment.

    Nothing to lose? He has the White House, to which he clearly feels entitled, to loose. There are pretty reliable reports that his wife nearly had a meltdown after the 2012 election. He has plenty to lose.

  28. Franklin says:

    @Ashlee Klerk: How do you spell a word right in one sentence, and then spell it wrong four sentences later? (foresight vs. fore site)

    And I don’t even want to guess what you think he was right about.

  29. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA: @stonetools: What you guys are referring to is why this post fills me with ennui and sadness. It is possible–even likely–that Romney is the best alternative the GOP has for President. This is definitely not good news for the party of Doug and James, and Saint Ayn of the virtuous selfishness.

    It’s even worse news for Conservatism–the bright and shining hope of the movement is…Mitt Romney?

  30. bandit says:

    Look on the bright side the Dem psycho liars can lie some more about him not paying taxes

  31. Nikki says:

    @bandit: Please stop whinging. Mitt had a sure-fire way to prove he had paid his taxes; follow his father’s example. And he couldn’t even do that.

  32. anjin-san says:

    @ Nikki

    follow his father’s example.

    Mitt seems to have come up short across the board in this regard.

  33. Al says:

    When will Republicans get it? Until you return to your conservative roots and refrain from running RINOs like Romney, you will never win another presidency. Not ever. Wake the heII up.

  34. Al says:

    @Ashlee Klerk: Ashlee, Mitt is NOT a strong leader. Nice guy, for sure, and a generous soul. But Mitt is weak and too left-leaning to be acceptable as the conservative choice.