A man who has spent as much time on the campaign trail as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney knows how important, and how meaningful, even the slightest adjustment to an oft-repeated statement can be. So it’s hard to believe that the most recent Republican nominee for president didn’t know what he was doing when he appeared on the radio show hosted by conservative firebrand Hugh Hewitt this week.
Romney, who lost to President Obama in the 2012 election, has consistently said that he is not interested in running for president for a third time. (He failed to win the nomination in 2008, losing to Arizona Sen. John McCain.) His former aides have likewise issued categorical denials that Romney is even considering such a move.
But in an interview with Hewitt earlier this week, Romney slightly, but significantly, changed his tone.
“I know this is hard for a lot of people to recognize, but frankly, I'd love to run for president – I loved running for president,” he said. However, he said that he believes “someone else has a better chance than I do,” and said that is why he is not running.
Then, he added, “And, you know, circumstances can change.”
Romney quickly came up with a highly unlikely scenario in which all of the current frontrunners abandon the race as the sort of circumstance he meant, and began praising the various other Republicans who are clearly positioning themselves for the race. But the fact that he has been consistently outpolling each and every one of them in recent weeks makes it hard to believe that Romney isn’t at least considering one more run at the White House.
Consider the list of potential candidates he touted while speaking with Hewitt. It included his former ticket mate, former GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Romney also ticked off New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Of that group, Christie and Walker are both facing serious legal troubles. Rubio is struggling to get right with the GOP’s conservative base after he supported a comprehensive immigration reform proposal that the hard right detested.
Jindal is, frankly, an uninspired campaigner who is of limited appeal outside his home state, and Bush, aside from being saddled with a family name that immediately associates him with his brother’s unpopular presidency, has been ambivalent at best about running for the White House.
The fact that Romney has massive name recognition undoubtedly has much to do with his recent polling success in early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire, and no doubt at least one of the contenders he named could probably consolidate the field and cut into his current advantage.
That name recognition gives Romney something many of the other potential candidates don’t have - time. He can hang back, staying out of the political fray, as more obvious contenders strain to raise their public profile, and let them suffer the bumps and bruises that go along with campaigning while he waits, watches, and gauges his chances.
It’s not a sure thing that Mitt will run again, but it’s hard to argue that he didn’t just open the door a bit.
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