When Mitt Romney announced on Friday that he had decided not to run for president in 2016, there was sort of a sigh of relief among some supporters and a confirmation of what others had been suspecting earlier in the week —that despite all the hype, Romney just wasn’t taking the steps he would take if he planned to run a third time.
Even going into Romney’s announcement call on Friday, it appeared as though Romney was, in fact, going to run in 2016, as both The Daily Beast and Bloomberg News reported. That speculation was fueled by a speech he gave earlier in the week at Mississippi State University which had some of the trimmings of a campaign speech.
“I can’t say I was surprised, because I honestly thought he could have gone either way,” Kathryn Packer Gage, a former deputy campaign manager on Romney’s 2012 campaign, told TPM. “Three weeks ago, I thought it was definitely a no. So when he first started dipping his toe in, I thought it was more likely a yes. In the last week or so I started to think it was definitely a no.”
If you look at Romney’s previous rollouts, Packer Gage said, they’re always very coordinated down to the smallest detail. Those steps just weren’t coming together ahead of Friday’s conference call.
“He just wasn’t making the kinds of moves behind the scenes that made me feel like he was about to launch a presidential campaign,” Packer Gage said. “There just wasn’t the level of planning and organizing going on that I would have expected.”
On CNN, Kevin Madden, a former senior adviser to Romney, said that while Romney wanted to run again, he saw that it might be a steep climb. That suspicion was confirmed by a Bloomberg News/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters released after Romney’s announcement. Utimately, it was a question of the head versus the heart, Madden said.
“It wouldn’t be as open a field as it has been in his previous runs. I think all of those considerations —and even some of the remarks that he made,” Madden said. “I think that this is a party that doesn’t need that type of commotion, that doesn’t look toward the future. I think all of that actively outweighed it.”
It wasn’t that Romney never actually wanted to run again. He was very seriously considering it, supporters and aides say. He was pressured to make a decision due to maneuvers of other likely candidates, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) who snagged a top former Romney adviser on Thursday.
“I think the moves made by other 2016 candidates necessitated Governor Romney’s initial trial balloon about running for a third time,” Ryan Williams, a former Romney aide who served the former Massachusetts governor in the governor’s mansion, said.
Former Romney staffers said they were sad but also relieved by his decision.
“I am sad but relieved. I really believe that he would make a good president. But I also know how hard the campaign was on the family,” a former Romney staffer, who couldn’t speak publicly for work reasons, told TPM. “I think he flirted with it for a while because so many people told him he was right about so many things, and because he had a good track record of endorsing the right candidates on the trail this year. But, when I think back to how painful the day after the election was in 2012, I’m not surprised.”
Romney confidant Ron Kaufman says he’s “sad for my kids, my grandkids, and my country.” “I leave for Israel tomorrow. I may not come back.”
— Matt Viser (@mviser) January 30, 2015
Almost immediately after Romney’s announcement, there was talk of him taking on the role of some kind of party elder and kingmaker for aspiring 2016 Republican presidential nominees. Bush released a statement calling Romney a patriot, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he hoped to work together with the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
I hope to work together with Mitt to grow our party and lead our country forward.
— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) January 30, 2015
It was a bit of a flip from the days before Romney’s announcement when other possible candidates were swiping at him.
“I think the candidates that are shitty to him do so at their own peril,” Packer Gage said. “I would think that all of them would be clamoring for his support because that’s just good campaign strategy.”
The New York Times reported Friday evening that Romney had a dinner scheduled with former Gov. Chris Christie (R), another potential 2016 candidate.