WASHINGTON -- There must be something about Mitt Romney that says “presidential” to a lot of people -- because after two defeats, including a crushing one to President Barack Obama in 2012, his name still comes up as a possible 2016 candidate.
Why is a two-time loser who took a beating for his work in venture capital and never really excited the Republican base getting such a serious second look?
“They’ve got buyers' remorse,” California-based Republican consultant Luis Alvarado said about the country's voters. He pointed to a number of things Romney talked about while on the campaign trail -- like Russia, the Middle East and the economy -- that may look prescient now. “If Mitt Romney would have been voted president, the country would have been in a better place,” he said.
Romney may not have long to mull the question. Jeb Bush is making it increasingly clear that he plans to run, and as members of the GOP establishment, the two men share much of the same political space and would be competing for donors and staff. Whoever starts to recruit supporters first will have the advantage.
Romney supporters and political analysts are looking to a key indicator: What does Ann Romney say? The conventional wisdom has been that Mrs. Romney was reluctant to agree to the 2012 campaign. But the potential first lady was always very engaged in the process. And she was fiercely protective of her husband, becoming more upset than he was about negative press coverage.
Family matters to Romney. Before the 2012 campaign, he brought his sons together for a family meeting to discuss the pros and cons of a campaign, and didn’t make a decision until they signed off.
In August, Ann Romney told ABC News that she wasn’t interested in seeing her husband as a candidate. “We’re not doing that again,” she said. “It’s a no.”
Ann Romney hasn’t said anything different since then, at least in public. But observers point to an October dinner the Romneys hosted in Boston for former donors and staff. Ann Romney was in attendance, prompting speculation that she is moving closer to supporting another campaign.
A deciding factor could be Romney's opinion of the rest of the GOP field. In 2012, Romney jumped in after he became concerned that none of the candidates at that point would stand a chance against Obama. Now he’ll be looking to see if someone fills his role: pro-business, moderate and a Washington outsider.
“He tells people not to commit to a candidate that is not their first choice and that they aren’t excited about,” a Republican donor told Politico. “He does not think much of the current field and does not think it is jelling. He still views himself as the leader of the establishment wing of the Republican Party.”
There are a few possible candidates who would be similar politically to Romney. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pro-business and has built relationships with Wall Street. But Romney has never been a big fan of the New Jersey governor. Christie was quickly dismissed as a possible running mate. And Romney’s campaign was incensed when, in the last days of the campaign, the governor embraced Obama on an airport tarmac in the days after Hurricane Sandy and praised the president's leadership.
A Jeb Bush candidacy might keep Romney out of the race. They share many of the same business and economic positions. They would also have to share some of the same donor pool, since many bundlers who worked for George W. Bush also fundraised for Romney. Those donors might decide that Jeb Bush is a fresher face. But Romney sees Bush's work with a number of large banks like Barclays as a liability.
“You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital],” Romney has told potential donors, according to Politico. “What do you think they’ll do to [Bush] over Barclays?”
Right now, the poll numbers are in Romney's favor. Polls of Republicans nationwide show Romney bests the rest of the GOP field in national polls. When included in polls, Romney outpaces Jeb Bush, who often comes in second. In a Fox News poll earlier this month, Romney led Bush by 9 percentage points.
The map of early contests looks advantageous for Romney. A USA Today/ Suffolk University poll of Iowa GOP voters conducted in August showed Romney with a large lead at 35 percent. A Purple Insights poll of New Hampshire conducted in November found Romney 19 points ahead.
Some of the poll results can be explained by the fact that at this stage, Romney enjoys much higher name recognition than most other potential candidates. He spent more than a year and millions of dollars introducing himself to voters.
That would also allow him to hang on a little longer before making a decision. But he'll soon have to decide if he thinks the third time’s the charm.