Romney 2016: The 'definition of insanity'?

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Image copyright Getty Images

Remember the tepid response from some conservative circles when Jeb Bush announced that he was exploring a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination?

Well, the former Florida governor's reception was downright enthusiastic compared to the cold shoulder being given former presidential nominee Mitt Romney when word spread that he, too, is considering jumping into the race.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul probably captured the sentiment of most of Mr Romney's potential presidential adversaries when he said the prospect of the 2012 Republican nominee running again and expecting a different result is the "definition of insanity".

"I think he's had his chance, and I think it's time for some fresh blood," the Kentucky senator told the Daily Signal.

More troubling for a possible Romney candidacy, however, is the response from the party rank-and-file and conservative commentators. Mr Romney's trial balloon seems to be leaking air and is in danger of sagging to the ground.

"Interviews with more than two dozen Republican activists, elected officials and contributors around the country reveal little appetite for another Romney candidacy," writes the New York Times's Jonathan Martin. "Beyond his enthusiasts - a formidable constituency given that many are donors - opinions range from indifference to open hostility."

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal editorial page provides more than just a taste of that open hostility.

"If Mitt Romney is the answer, what is the question?" the editors ask. "We can think of a few worthy possibilities, though one that doesn't come immediately to mind is who would be the best Republican presidential nominee in 2016."

The editors go on to bash Mr Romney's 2012 campaign strategy, its voter turnout efforts, the way he staged the party's national convention and how he's handled himself since his presidential defeat.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeb Bush's fundraising success may be forcing Mitt Romney's hand

"Mr Romney is a man of admirable personal character, but his political profile is, well, protean," they write.

This "Romney is a nice guy but …" formulation has cropped up again and again in the spate of criticisms that have been written in the past several days.

"He's an honourable, capable and decent person," writes the National Review's Jonah Goldberg. "But I know lots of honourable, capable and decent people. I don't want them to run for president either."

Yet another campaign would endanger Mr Romney's political legacy, writes HotAir's Allahpundit. He predicts Mr Romney's campaign won't gain traction, and the former governor will have to withdraw sometime between the first caucus in Iowa and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

"If Romney runs now and finishes as an afterthought, it'll be one more sign that the whiz kid couldn't read the tea leaves placed before him despite 20 years of practice in electoral politics that included two previous presidential runs," he writes.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin advances the theory that Mr Romney's move was in response to Mr Bush's strength in locking down Republican fundraisers. Mr Romney would have preferred to wait and enter a muddled race with no clear leader as a "unifying figure" who becomes "the saviour of the party", but events forced his hand.

"Romney had to junk his timetable and act quickly," she writes. "Otherwise - if he remained quiet - he would be closing the door to ever becoming president."

Once a politician sees himself as a potential chief executive, the dream is a hard one to give up. As former Vice-President Al Gore, who won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000 then was narrowly defeated by George W Bush, frequently quips: "I don't think about being president anymore … but I don't think about it any less, either."

Mr Romney, by all accounts, went in to Election Day 2012 not just envisioning himself as president, but feeling - thanks to misguided internal polling - that his moment had arrived.

It turns out it hadn't. But it now appears increasingly likely he's going to give it one more go. And while some conservatives are responding unenthusiastically, Candidate Romney still has some key strengths.

He has the personal wealth to mount a sophisticated, nationwide campaign. His 2012 effort affords him name recognition higher than anyone else in the Republican field. And his experience running national campaigns means he's used to the harsh media spotlight - something that can trip up less seasoned candidates (just ask 2004 Democrat presidential aspirant Howard Dean).

But 2016 is shaping up to be no 2012. Back then Mr Romney benefited from a less than top-tier field, and after some initial struggles he prevailed. This time around, the cadre of candidates likely will be much more formidable.

If Mr Romney wants to be the first Republican since Richard Nixon to be get his party's nod after a presidential defeat, this week's reaction makes it quite clear he's going have to earn it.