Mitt Romney made it official Friday—he’s done with the whole “presidential thing,” at least for now.
In a conference call with supporters, Romney said that he put some thought into a third run for president in 2016 butconcluded “I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become out next nominee.”
The Romney announcement was not a big surprise and came after weeks of discussion within his camp about the possibility of yet another run in 2016.
But it was clear from the start that Romney faced resistance to a third bid for the White House.
Some prominent Romney supporters and fundraisers from his 2012 campaign had already signaled interest in a possible bid by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Many conservatives in the party who never were taken with Romney felt they will have several better choices for 2016. Even real estate mogul Donald Trump went out of his way to dismiss Romney when he spoke to a conservative gathering in Iowa last week.
“It can’t be Mitt because Mitt ran and failed,” Trump said.
Trump, who said he is considering a run for president next year, was not enthusiastic about Jeb Bush either. “The last thing we need is another Bush,” he said.
With Romney now out of the race, Bush and perhaps New Jersey Governor Chris Christie look to be favorites for the establishment wing of the Republican Party looking to find a strong candidate to take on the likely Democratic nominee next year, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Romney’s departure means additional focus on Bush, said analyst John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
“Jeb Bush is a very strong candidate,” Fortier said. “He has a lot of support within the establishment part of the party. I think he will be viewed by some, by the Tea Party, worries about his immigration views and being too much of an establishment figure.
“But he starts with a strong base of support,” he said. “He is not quite the favorite that Hillary Clinton is on the Democratic side, but he is a very strong candidate and it looks like he is looking to run.”
Looking for a fresh face
The Romney decision helps the Republican Party turn a page on a veteran of the 2008 and 2012 campaigns and could fuel interest in other newcomers in the party with possible mainstream appeal including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
There is no shortage of potential conservative contenders in 2016 that will look for Tea Party support including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Social conservatives may rally around former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Huckabee won the Iowa Caucus vote in 2008 and Santorum won in 2012. Iowa will kick off the presidential selection process early next year.
Many analysts saw Romney as a flawed candidate in 2012 and questioned his rationale for even considering another run for president next year.
Romney’s infamous comment that he didn’t worry about the “47 percent” of Americans who will support President Obama no matter what would have haunted him in a third campaign for the White House, said Republican analyst Scott Faulkner.
“Romney ran two very bad races,” Faulkner said. “The first time he couldn’t even get the nomination. The second time he did terrible. In this day and age, when you leave your bathroom and bedroom, you have to recognize that everything you say is potentially on the record. So to say the 47 percent (comment) to a group of donors not realizing that some of the catering staff might have their cell phones on. I mean that is just in this day and age totally out of touch with how the world works.”
Even without Romney, Republicans are looking forward to a strong and diverse collection of candidates next year, said Republican strategist Phillip Stutts.
“In 2016 the Republican Party has never had a better group of champions, a better bench of policy makers than they do,” Stutts said. “We should have a very robust, huge debate and we should put these guys out front and center. We are going to have smart candidates that talk big policy ideas that can change this country in ways that I am very excited about.”
No fewer than 20 prominent Republicans have talked about running in recent weeks.
Bush could have an advantage with name recognition, fundraising and organization in a crowded field where newcomers try to stand out from the pack.
But even assuming Bush gets in the race, you can expect a long and difficult primary race given the resistance of some Republicans to another Bush in the White House and the ongoing mainstream-Tea Party divide that has split the party in recent years.