THIS WEEK, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gave Fox News a seemingly comprehensive statement of his non-interest in pursuing another run for the presidency in 2016. “I'm not running and not planning on running,” Romney said, in what may be the most sweeping denial non-denial of presidential ambition we’ve heard in some time.
Don’t you believe it. Not a word of it.
For reasons that have as much to do with the paucity of the current GOP field of contenders as with Romney’s own undying ambitions — and the relentless march of his own life calendar — a 2016 bid by the former governor is all but certain. That’s not a venturesome forecast, and it’s certainly been made before. But every Romney avowal of non-interest is accompanied by another Romney position paper on this or that. There’s a pattern quickly developing, and it’s one that will continue until the moment he declares. Watch and see.
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Then there was the other interview he had, on Wednesday, with Greta Van Susteren on his familiar Fox News turf, just before President Obama spoke on the U.S. strategy for dealing with ISIS.
Romney came out swinging, lambasting Obama for not following through on his foreign policy initiatives. “People have come to see in the president someone who speaks eloquently and often times definitively, but doesn't follow through,” Romney said. “So there will be a great deal of discounting behind his words but then people are going to look for action.”
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THE FAILED 2012 presidential candidate said Obama's policies “have put us in a place of danger unlike anything we knew.”
“It's almost hard to imagine how the president's foreign policy could have been worse as it relates to keeping America safe from jihadists having territories and funds from which they can attack America,” Romney said. And Romney had already lit into Obama days earlier, in a hawkish Sept. 4 op-ed in The Washington Post.
All of it points to someone who, principled and thoughtful denials aside, is rhetorically and optically poising himself to throw his mink-lined fedora into the 2016 presidential race.
Never one to miss the main chance, Romney has been picking his spots and laying in the cut, just watching for his opportunity, and with good reason. Fact is, 2016 could be the best chance he’s ever had, and the best he’s ever going to get.
Consider: the purportedly smart money (or at least the early money) is on the GOP recapturing the Senate this November. If that happens, and nothing untoward occurs to upend the math in the House, the stage would be set for (the horror!) Republican domination of Congress. It wouldn’t do a thing for most of the country; it’d be a flat-out disaster for everyday people. But with Pantone-red Republicans running the legislative table for the last two years of the Obama presidency, Romney could count on a big assist from senators and congresspeople predisposed to do all they could on Capitol Hill to help ensure a Romney win.
Also, the field of potential GOP contenders is relatively clear right now. Rand Paul has been making gravitas noises for more than a year, but Kentucky state law will force the junior senator from the Bluegrass State to choose between running to retain his Senate seat and making a run for the White House — and, to go by the results of a late August poll, a lot of Kentucky voters aren’t inclined to change the law for him.
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FLORIDA SEN. Marco Rubio, whose Senate term ends in 2016, faces much the same challenge in his home state; he can’t run for two federal positions at the same time either. Florida Department of State spokesman Chris Cate told Politico as much last year: “He cannot be on the ballot for two different offices.”
Who else? Ted Cruz? The naturalized Texas senator isn’t barred from running on a birthright basis, but he’s a profoundly divisive politician, even among his fellow Republicans. His 2013 filibuster was instrumental in shutting down the federal government, which many in the GOP didn’t like. And his scorched-earth style of politics has created as many enemies as friends. The primary season is no time to mend fences within your own party.
traffic cones in the way. And Christie’s facing more serious political problems: On Wednesday, Standard & Poor’s downgraded New Jersey’s credit rating, citing Christie's apparently feckless management of the Garden State’s $78 billion pension system. S&P said Christie’s bungling has “significant negative implications” for the state. The Wednesday downgrade was the eighth under Christie’s stewardship of the state. With the economy as Issue #1 for millions of Americans, it’s a safe bet people would come to a sensible conclusion if Christie does get in: If he can’t run New Jersey’s finances, damned if he gets a chance to preside over the economy of the whole country.
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Rick Perry has his problems, thanks to his own actions in office. Texas Governor Oops is under indictment for abuse of his gubernatorial powers, accused by prosecutors of threatening to veto funding for a unit of the office of a Travis County district attorney, who was convicted of drunk driving. A sorry performance in his 2012 run for the Oval Office has left a sour aftertaste with the public.
And Bush faces other challenges. Besides the contents of a gnarly little list of personal issues (just compiled by Mother Jones), there’s a March 6 Washington Post/ABC News poll that found that 50 percent of registered voters “definitely would not” vote for him in a general election.
Who’s left after that? You got it. Mitt Romney.
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OF COURSE there’s every good reason to have doubts about Romney. After a train wreck of a presidential campaign in 2012, people would be right to ask themselves what Romney would do different this time than last, and what more, what else we could know about Romney that we haven’t already learned about him over two failed presidential bids.
Conservatives have been deeply skeptical of Romney and his deeper motives. Consider what Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative must-read RedState.com, observed on Nov. 8, 2011 — a year before the 2012 vote:
Mitt Romney ... is a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected. As much as the American public does not like Barack Obama, they loath a man so fueled with ambition that he will say or do anything to get himself elected. Mitt Romney is that man. ...
There is no issue I can find on which Mitt Romney has not taken both sides. He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is simply unprincipled. The man has no core beliefs other than in himself. ...
Mitt Romney is the silly putty of politicians — press on him real hard and he’ll take on whatever image you press into him until the next group starts pressing.
Voters may not like Barack Obama, but by the time Obama is done with Romney they will not trust Mitt Romney. And voters would rather [have] the guy they don’t like than the guy they don’t trust.
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BUT confident in his own mind that past performance is no guarantee of future results, Romney is keeping his powder dry and his car elevators operational as he privately weighs his options. He’ll have to prove he can walk the walk himself — something he had problems doing in 2012, and earlier in the 2008 presidential contest, the one he bailed out of during the primary season.
He’ll need to tell us something about himself, his policy prescriptions, his ideas, his Vision Thing, that he hasn’t already told us. Or promised to tell us. Maybe he’ll decide he can make that up as he goes along. Like he did in 2012.
We’ll find out. It’s only a matter of how long it takes him to resurrect the network of advisers and bundlers, spokespersons and pizza-gobbling interns he’s probably never disbanded entirely from 2012. It’s just a matter of how long it takes him to talk wife Ann into another 18 months of state fair chicken-finger dinners, how much time he needs to get the kids lashed to the roof of the campaign bus for another schlep across our great nation.
Romney 2016? It’s just a matter of time. Democratic strategist James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign jefe in 1992 and 1996, and a man in a position to know these things, said as much in his singular way on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Aug. 26: “Romney would be a classic Republican nominee. They always tend to go with the old, experienced white guy. And he's the old, experienced white guy right now.”
Image credits: Romney top: Fox News. Romney lower: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images. Cruz: Senate TV. Christie: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters. Bush: John Minchillo/Associated Press. Romney at Al Smith Dinner: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.