After repeatedly ruling out another run for president in 2016, Mitt Romney indicated Friday he was at least giving it some thought.
His statement behind closed doors to a group of political donors in Manhattan further unsettles a wide-open GOP race and holds out the prospect of a clash between two dynastic Republican families, the Romneys and the Bushes.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is aggressively raising money for a 2016 bid, and Romney’s remarks, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, seemed—at minimum—an effort to slow any momentum his prospective rival might gain. If the two were to face off, they would probably compete for support among the same establishment Republicans and business-minded donors.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who followed his father’s path by twice running for president, did not offer a timetable for a final decision on another White House bid. But his statement of renewed interest suggested a shift in his thinking from just a few months ago, when he insisted—as he had time and again—that he had no plans to run again in 2016.
“I'm not running, I'm not planning on running, and I've got nothing new on that story,” Romney said in an October interview on Bloomberg TV.
About the same time, Romney’s, wife, Ann, told the Los Angeles Times regarding 2016: “Done. Completely. Not only Mitt and I are done, but the kids”—the couple have five sons—”are done. Done. Done. Done.”
If he were to seek the White House a third time, Romney would face a dynamic more akin to 2008—when he was one of several competitors in a crowded field—than 2012, when he ran as the front-runner and ultimately clinched the GOP nomination.
While it is too soon to declare Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, as the leading Republican candidate in 2016, his assertive moves have quickened the pace of the campaign, forcing others—like Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—to reconsider their political plans and push up their timetables to decide.
Among other difficulties, Romney would have to overcome lingering memories of his less-than-stellar 2012 campaign. Many Republicans considered the race against President Obama eminently winnable and have accused Romney and his campaign team of a subpar performance and execution.
“Romney needs to answer the question of why does he believe he deserves another shot,” Craig Robinson, a prominent GOP activist in early-voting Iowa, posted on Twitter. “He's been the nominee, and failed miserably.”
On Twitter: @markzbarabak