Since the emergence of Donald Trump as the GOP presidential front-runner, various sources close to Mitt Romney have floated the idea of the 2012 nominee reentering the current race to heroically save his party. Romney has repeatedly insisted that he’s out for good this time, but now he claims that “Mitt 2016” fever is still very much alive — to the point that even a current candidate has begged him not to rule out running. “Look,” Romney told the Washington Post in late December, “I had one person who was running for president, and I won’t give you the name … called me and said, ‘I hope you don’t close the door. We may need you.’ That’s a person running for president. A candidate. A Republican. I’m not giving it a second thought.”
The quote is part of a lengthy Post retrospective on how the Republicans got themselves into their current presidential predicament, and Romney also notes that he totally called Jeb Bush’s downfall a year ago. On January 22, Bush flew to Salt Lake City to meet with Romney. Both sides were tight-lipped about what was said during their “gentlemanly conversation,” but eight days later, Romney announced he was dropping out of the 2016 race.
Now Romney confirms that Bush’s perceived shortcomings were part of the reason he decided to run. He says he thought, “I like Jeb a lot, I think he’d be a great president, but felt he was unfairly but severely burdened by the W. years — and when I say the W. years, it’s not only what happened to the economy, but the tragedy in Iraq.” He added, “Bush-versus-Clinton head-to-head would be too easy for the Democrats.”
Romney reveals he shared these concerns with Bush at their January 22 meeting, per the Times:
[Romney said]: “Jeb, to be very honest, I think it’s very hard for you to post up against Hillary Clinton and to separate yourself from the difficulty of the W. years and compare them with the Clinton years.” He said Bush responded by saying that “he was going to make his campaign about the future, not about the past.”
“I didn’t say anything at that point,” Romney recalled. “But as he left, I said to myself, ‘Gosh, in my opinion, it’s not going to be as easy to make that separation as I think he gives the impression it will be.’ One of the few things I predicted that turned out to be true.”
Romney says he ultimately decided that it was going to take “something unusual” to beat Clinton — i.e. not the same guy who ran last time — but he doesn’t elaborate on how his chat with Bush played into that decision.
As for Bush, he doesn’t seem thrilled about Romney building up the “Mitt 2016” fantasy at his expense. A Bush spokesperson told the Post, “We don’t talk about meetings that we consider to be private. We’re honoring Governor Bush’s commitment to Governor Romney to keep the meeting private. Governor Bush appreciates what Mitt did in waging an able campaign and leading our ticket.”