2016: Jeb … or Mitt?

Jeb-MittBy Lynn R. Mitchell

I have not written before now about Mitt Romney’s comments Friday when he told a group of donors that he is still considering entering the 2016 presidential race (see Romney to GOP donors: ‘I want to be President’).

Quite frankly, it was surprising. For months I had listened, hoping to hear that Mitt would get into the 2016 campaign but hearing his continued denials over and over and over and over. I was fully supportive of him in 2008 and 2012, even served on his Virginia Steering Committee in 2012, and enthusiastically attended the pre-election rally held at Fishersville’s Expoland in 2012 that brought out 10,000 supporters and also featured VP candidate Congressman Paul Ryan, Romney Virginia Chair Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and former Virginia First Lady Susan Allen.

Because of that and more, I waited to hear if he would change his mind and go for a third run. Every month or two there would be an article heralding something like “Mitt Wins Another Poll!” or “Mitt was right about such-and-such world event” or “Mitt leads in XYZ Poll.” He was crisscrossing the country traveling to various events and endorsing candidates in primaries and the general election.

In June 2014 when hundreds of Virginia Republicans gathered in Richmond at Bill Bolling’s “Burgers With Bill” event that featured Governor Romney (see Photos from ‘Burgers with Bill’), I was standing in front of Romney when he was asked, “Are you running for President?” He said without hesitation, “No.” I watched his body language. There was nothing apprehensive about it but, rather, a clear and firm message. There seemed little doubt.

Throughout the summer and into the fall I kept wondering if Mitt would enter the race, and all that time he continued to deny that he was interested. On November 2, 2014, he said in a Fox News interview, “I’m not running. I’m not planning to run.”

And so I turned my attention more and more to a candidate I wasn’t sure would get into the race, Jeb Bush, someone who had endorsed Mitt in March 2012 during that year’s presidential campaign (see Gov. Jeb Bush endorses Gov. Mitt Romney).

I watched as Jeb’s public appearances picked up and his son George P. won Texas Land Commissioner in November. Then in December, Jeb announced his official intent to “explore” the race. That was what I had been waiting for. It seemed a clear signal that Mitt was not running, and Jeb was someone with an excellent pragmatic governing record for two terms as governor of Florida. We stroked a check for his “Right to Rise” PAC. Donors are excited, Bush alumni are excited, and those looking for pragmatic leadership are excited.

Then Mitt stepped back into the picture a few days ago. When Jeb announced in December, I thought he and Mitt had decided between them, that Mitt truly was out of it, and they had come to an understanding. I was very obviously wrong. Mitt is now stepping back into the spotlight, sucking the oxygen out of the room, and turning the news cycle to Mitt and away from Jeb.

Two similar candidates with similar backers. Not good.

The Washington Post noted (see For Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, a history of ambition fuels a possible 2016 collision):

“We’re seeing the first shots of the war between clan Romney and clan Bush,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who has worked for both men. “Both bring to the battle incredibly powerful fan clubs as well as wounds they have to heal. How ugly could it get? You’re only competing to lead the free world.”

“The Bush connection is a centrifugal force, and it’s drawing back a whole generation of public servants and politicos,” said former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, one of Romney’s 2012 opponents.

Being friends with many Romney supporters, this is the last thing I wanted to see. The line is already being drawn in the sand for some. On Monday, Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin, a strong Romney supporter during his run and a pragmatic conservative, wrote a column that alienated some Mitt supporters (see 10 warnings for the ‘Romney in ’16 crowd). I don’t want to do the same so am carefully choosing my words.

Monday afternoon there was yet another Romney article in the Washington Post that had a bothersome tidbit (see Romney moves to reassemble campaign apparatus for 2016):

On New Year’s Eve, Romney welcomed Laura Ingraham, the firebrand conservative and nationally syndicated talk-radio host, to his ski home in Deer Valley, Utah. The setting was informal and came about because Ingraham was vacationing in the area. Romney prepared a light lunch for Ingraham and her family as they spent more than one hour discussing politics and policy, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Disturbing. And disappointing that he continued to say no when he obviously meant yes. Paul Ryan has now announced that he is not running for president. Should we interpret that to mean he is?

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