Why Romney Didn’t Run

The 2012 Republican nominee passed on running for president. He could have won the nomination, so why didn’t he do it?

01.31.15 11:45 AM ET

Running for president is a lot like trying to make it to the Super Bowl. It’s terribly difficult to get there and once you do, half the teams lose. I’ve been around a number of presidential candidates and even seeing their stress and pressure first hand, it would be wildly presumptuous to say I know what they experienced. Standing on the sidelines in an NFL game, you may get an up close look at the violence and velocity but it’s never the same as being the one out on the field hitting at the highest level.

Mitt Romney has run for president twice and accomplished what few politicians ever achieve. Probably 90 percent of the politicians in America would like to be the nominee of their Party but are unable to muster what it takes to get it done. Some say that Romney isn’t a very good politician; well, of all the governors and senators, Congressman and assorted politicians whom dream of being president, Romney stepped forward, took the risk and secured the nomination. He did it without a traditional geographic or ideological base. In a party that is increasingly southern, evangelical and populist, he falls into none of those niches and yet still won the nomination. He lost to an incumbent president without a primary and outside the federal financing system. Only one other president in similar circumstances has lost in the last 100-plus years: Herbert Hoover, who had a bad year

Like every campaign, the Romney team made mistakes and I’ve been the first to say, “Blame me.” We’d like to have moments back and ultimately any campaign that doesn’t accomplish its final goal is a failure. So we failed.

But losing a race didn’t change the reasons Romney ran. He got in the race because he was deeply concerned about the direction of the country and many of those concerns have spiraled into crisis. From Russia to Iraq, American foreign policy is a mess. The stock market is up but except for top earners and asset holders, most Americans are still economically stressed. Poverty has spiked under President Obama with at least 16 million more people on foods stamps. Part time jobs and those dropping out of the work force are largely driving the declining unemployment numbers. Obama is on track to be the first president in U.S. history to leave office after two terms with fewer full time jobs than when he took office.

Unlike any former nominee of a party in modern history, Romney emerged three years after the election as the most popular figure in his Party. Across a broad field of potential candidates, he easily beats everyone, including candidates with near saturation name ID. He does better against Hillary Clinton than any Republican, tying her in the latest poll at 46 percent.

So it’s not surprising that he considered running for president again. The political vital signs were positive; he could raise the money for the primary and was winning in each of the four early states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and even South Carolina, where in 2012 he lost to Newt Gingrich by 12 points. Most importantly, he did well with Republicans across the board, from those who considered themselves Tea Party voters and those who didn’t—a critical sign of broad-based support. Would he have won all four of those early states? No one on the Republican side ever has but given his base of support, he wouldn’t need to win or even compete in each; winning two of the four would have likely put him on a path to secure the nomination.

Predicting politics is a terribly self-deceptive game and had Romney run, there was no guarantee, but he was clearly better positioned than anyone else to win the nomination. This was winnable. As for the general election against Hillary Clinton or another Democrat, who knows what 2016 will bring? It was at this point in 1991 that President Bush was so strong, no prominent Democrat had entered the race.

So why didn’t Romney take the next step? “I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” he said in his statement. After looking at it, considering it, he felt that it was right to give others a chance to step up and prove themselves, a process that will hopefully produce a very strong nominee.

It’s an unusual move. Before his call Friday, most political observers were predicting Romney would move forward, which seemed the safe bet. (Though Romney had consulted with a wide range of people while considering the race, only a handful knew of his final decision.) It’s rare that someone who has a very good chance to win a nomination, particularly for an open seat, would pass on the opportunity. But it’s consistent with who Mitt Romney is: a good and decent man, remarkably centered in his family and faith, who really does want what he believes is best for the country. He’s not a candidate driven by some personal anger, desperate to prove himself. If in a wide range of candidates there is a chance for the nominating process to produce a very strong candidate, he doesn’t want to put personal ambition before that possibility.

Outside the intense partisan fire of the election, hopefully more people have been able to get a better sense of Mitt Romney as a person. Yesterday with a bit of graciousness in our “me first” culture, he gave us a little more insight.