Is Mitt Romney Really Running for President in 2016?

The former governor told donors he's considering another campaign.

Associated Press

Associated Press

After saying “no” to the idea, then “maybe no,” Mitt Romney is now just saying “maybe.” The former Massachusetts governor is on the record saying he is considering making a third run for president in 2016. At a gathering of donors last week, Romney confirmed he might run and told them, “go tell your friends,” according to Politico.

In presidential politics, speculation about a campaign is never as uncomplicated as it looks, so pundits spent the weekend analyzing what might be going through the former Governor’s head. Some of their theories:

1. Mitt really wants to be president. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. There’s no doubt that Romney has long craved the office of president. (He’s basically been running since 2006.) Coming as close as he did in 2012 can’t have done much to dampen that dream. And you can’t win the presidency if you don’t run. At Five Thirty Eight, Harry Enten shows why Romney might think he has a shot. There’s no Hilary Clinton-like heir apparent in the Republican field. Romney polls well with a lot of wings of his party. He has name recognition, and he’s got a network of donors.

Romney himself expressed worry in the Netflix documentary “Mitt” that he’d be branded “a loser for life” if he lost in 2012. But there’s plenty of precedent in American history to show that a failed party nominee can twice recapture his party’s nomination (like Adlai Stevenson did) or even win the presidency (as Richard Nixon did after losing to John F. Kennedy in 1960).

2. Mitt wants to slow down Jeb Bush. Romney’s news came shortly after former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced he would explore a presidential run. The two former governors have similar profiles and appeal to the same pro-business wing of the Republican Party so if they both ran, they’d compete for the same donors. Romney has said before that he thinks Bush faces tough odds because of his business interests and that he couldn’t win a general election. Most pundits agreed that Romney’s move slows Bush’s momentum by forcing donors to hold off on backing him.  “Romney is really buying himself—and, whether intentionally or not, the rest of the potential field—some time. He’s taking the Bush pot off of boil and turning it down to simmer,” says The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza.

3. Running is good for Mitt Romney. Before Romney made his interest in 2016 more official, there were some cynics who thought the speculation about his candidacy came in part from people involved with his son’s firm Solemere, because it was a boon for business. And running for president is a good way to stay relevant. Especially with Romney holding up big donors, he’ll have more power to pick an eventual winner in what is now a pretty open field if he decides against running.

Romney himself probably doesn’t know what he’ll end up doing. But one thing’s for sure, the 2016 speculation is no longer a silly fantasy. He’s seriously considering it which means that even if Deval Patrick remains uninterested, Massachusetts could, once again, have a former governor in the running come the next presidential race.