In his announcement to his supporters today that he will not pursue a presidential bid next year, Mitt Romney took a parting shot at the man who would’ve been his chief rival for the nomination had he entered the race: former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
“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,” Romney said. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”
That person is clearly not Jeb Bush, who, as it happens, is now being advised by Mike Murphy, the man who led Romney’s campaign for governor in 2002. Murphy joined that campaign while serving simultaneously as a strategist for Arizona senator John McCain and for Bush, who at the time was running in a competitive race for reelection. In 2008, Murphy vowed to remain neutral if his clients, Romney and McCain, faced off against each other in a primary election. He did not make the same vow in 2016.
Murphy’s loss was a real loss for Romney. “I don’t think Romney has ever felt like he has replaced the relationship he had with Murphy. He has tried, but it didn’t ever seem to me that he felt he had replicated that relationship,” says a former Romney aide. Romney and Murphy continued to speak even after Murphy’s departure.
Romney’s remarks this morning were simultaneously at jab at Bush and at Murphy and an acknowledgement that he is not the best candidate to take on Hillary Clinton. Romney’s scheduled dinner with New Jersey governor Chris Christie is another tacit signal of his views.
His supporters are starting to talk. “A number of Romney bundlers and foreign-policy folks have reached out to me this morning,” says Robert O’Brien, who served as a top Romney bundler in 2012 and a member of the governor’s foreign-policy team. “This is going to be the most wide-open primary that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. With Mitt getting out it does not appear that there’s any front-runner at this time. What I’m hearing from Romney bundlers reflects the wide open field. Several have indicated that they will be signing up immediately with Jeb. I’ve heard from several others who are going to be supporting Ted Cruz. I heard from others who expressed an interest in Governor Kasich if he runs. Among the policy folks, there seems to be among the national-security hawks there seems to be a strong and growing interest in Marco Rubio and several folks are taking a close look at Scott Walker.”
But wait. O’Brien adds, “Several Romney bundlers are still holding out hope that circumstances will change and Governor Romney will reenter the race.” He notes, “I personally think that that is highly unlikely.”