The Washington Post’s By Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Matea Gold, Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins, and Politico’s Maggie Habermann have the best takes on Mitt Romney’s surprise announcement to key donors yesterday that he is back in the mix for the 2016 GOP nomination.
I was talking on air with Carly Fiorina about her likely campaign when the news broke, and was as surprised as the next reporter. (Fiorina quickly said she would get out just because Romney was in.) The next hour former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told me pretty much the same thing. Given my interview with Scott Walker Monday (transcript and audio here) I don’t think the Wisconsin governor is going to step aside either, and of course former Florida Governor Jeb Bush isn’t going anywhere. Will Chris Christie get pushed to the sidelines by Romney and Bush? Possibly. There’s not a lot of campaign cash left in Manhattan after those two camps hold their meetings. But he’s the only one of the dozen-plus GOPers I see exiting stage left or right because of the most potent duo of front runners and supporting cast since the 1980 campaign.
The 1980 campaign was very good for the GOP, though bruising. It came at a time of crisis, and we are in such a time. It featured excellent exchanges and principled campaigns. It energized voters. As Bill Kristol wrote a week ago “The More The Merrier” makes for a good –and very interesting to the electorate– 2015 and early 2016. All good as the democratic Party sits stuck and withering away with a tired, reclusive, entitled candidate in Hillary. (And she is reclusive: Quarterly interviews with reliable MSMers don’t count as engaged and campaigning.)
I haven’t talked to Governor Romney since he appeared on my show in August of last year and declared that “circumstances can change,” with regard to his running. (The transcript of that complete interview, suddenly very interesting, is right here.) I did discuss the specifics of how Romney might run with NBC’s Chuck Todd yesterday, and the Meet The Press host drew on his long experience as editor of Hotline to lay the key reality out, even as I speculated –speculated being the key phrase here– that Romney would run a 21st century version of a “front porch” campaign, qualifying for all the primary ballots but not keeping the schedule first-timers must keep in new Hampshire, South Carolina and the March 1 and March primary states. (I don’t see Iowa as mattering much at all this time around given the radically different media environment and the new generation of tools for voter engagement.) I suspect as well that Romney will simply skip all debates, declaring that voters know him, that they need time to see the other candidates at work, and giving high profile interviews to major media figures the day of or day after any well-attneded debate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Romney claiming a “bye” of sorts given the accuracy of his assessments and predictions in 2012, and his known strengths. Expect DVDs of “Mitt” to show up in many mailboxes.
This will be the most interesting primary campaign of my life against the backdrop of the worst presidency in American history and burgeoning crises abroad and the economic doldrums at home. For a journalist, fresh from a week of terror and tragedy, still unfolding, the oldest, longest saw in the books applies:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
This should be an election about national defense and rescuing the country from the utter confusion about place, purpose and policy to which Barack Obama’s incompetence has condemned it. A full GOP field, making the key arguments about the most important topics, is exactly what the country needs.
HH: I kind of always thought Mitt Romney would get into this, but I didn’t think he’d get into it this early. And this is all but a declaration, if it’s correctly reported from CBS. I have no independent confirmation of this.
CT: I have independent confirmation, for what it’s worth. And this is, you know, he did say this to this group of donors that he is, and he’s now formally, but let’s realize, Hugh, for three months, he’s been meeting with donors. Why do you do that?
HH: Right, and he told me “circumstances can change.”
CT: And [how] he would have done that in ’12, right?
CT: So he’s been pondering this for a while. He just said it and wanted this to go public. Let’s remember this. They wanted this to go public. Now what is this in response to? It’s in response to Jeb Bush. And I’ll be honest with you, Hugh, I don’t know if there’s room for Mitt Romney with Jeb being as aggressive as he is in trying to essentially corner the market on donors. And you know, they fish from the same pond, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.
HH: Here’s my question for you.
CT: Let me put it this way. If Mitt Romney gets in, then this was a good day to be Rand Paul.
HH: Possibly, although I actually don’t think Romney would join the debates. I think he would stand aside and say to the 14 people on the stage, “You know who I am…”
CT: Yeah, you go enjoy yourselves.
HH: Yeah, “[G]o enjoy yourself. I’ve been there and I’ve done that, and I’ll let the primary voters…”
CT: Well Hugh, it’s funny you say this. Here’s what I was told about where Romney’s head is at. He is not going to run through the gauntlet again. He’s not going to do Iowa and New Hampshire. What he wants to do is basically be there ready to take the nomination when the party totally is on the verge of, they can’t decide who to be with – is it Huckabee, is it Paul, is it Jeb, and then in March or April of ’16, he says okay, you know, you know I can raise the billion and a half dollars. You know that I’m not going to mess this up. I know what I’m doing. But that’s basically the turf he’s trying to carve out. I just think Jeb has just made it that much harder for him.
HH: Now you as the former editor of HotLine, you know the devil’s in the details. There are filing deadlines and delegate slates that have to be…
CT: Yeah, that’s right.
HH: There’s legal stuff. When do those start to provide tripwires for Team Romney? I actually don’t know the answer to this question even remotely.
CT: It’s, I’m going to go by previous years, and some of the rules have changed. Some of the first sets of delegate deadlines are much earlier than you realize. They’re in the calendar year of 2015, you know, whether it’s petition to get on the ballot, like Ohio has a ridiculous, and New York have horrible, crazy petitions where you’ve got to get a certain amount of signatures in a Congressional district to get your delegate slate on the ballot. And if you’re not doing that stuff in September, October, November of the calendar year before, you’re not going to be able to get on the ballot, as we saw. Remember, Rick Santorum couldn’t get on every county ballot in some states late in the game, and this was stuff that, deadlines that he missed three and four months previous is when you have to do it. So I would say it’s late, you know, it’s Thanksgiving at the absolutely latest.