Everyone’s running until they’re not. That’s the biggest takeaway from Mitt Romney’s announcement to supporters Friday, and it’s the single thing that makes presidential news so difficult to parse this time of year.
— Romney’s announcement today that he would stand aside to let a new GOP leader emerge in 2016 caps a three-week news whirlwind surrounding the 2012 nominee, which included numerous details about donor signups, staff being retained, and local leaders being called — in short, exactly the sort of things one does before running for president. They are exactly the sort of things many of the other presumed candidates are doing right now, too.
— Yet Romney won’t pull the trigger. But he clearly wanted to be in the position of being able to go for his party’s nomination instead of having a lack of preparation, rather than a lack of desire, be what kept him out. And it seems unlikely that Romney will be the only person to go through those motions but still pull back in 2015. As we’ve noted before, the same thing happened with Haley Barbour in 2011.
— As far as what Romney’s exit from the 2016 scene means: It certainly precludes a titanic primary clash of dynastic GOP “establishment” figures with Jeb Bush. But even if that won’t divide their wing of the party, there’s still an issue to consider, which is that the GOP has become more of a blue-collar party in every recent year. There may not be as much space as there once was in Republicans’ traditional power center.
Romney passing on 2016 is a fitting end to a January full of news about him and Bush, which no one would have expected months ago. But he’s unlikely to be the last presidential candidate to take a pass this year.