In a conference call with supporters, Mitt Romney on Friday generously removed himself from consideration for the Republican presidential nomination to make room for … well, he didn’t really say.
In a strikingly odd statement, Romney essentially dismissed the current crop of contenders, which includes former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz, saying he’s convinced he would beat them all if he ran. He’s also convinced, he said, that he would beat the Democratic Party nominee, whoever that may be. But he said he’s decided not to run to make room for an as-yet little known candidate “who may well emerge” from the pack.
“I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again, if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind,” he said. “That seems unlikely. Accordingly, I’m not organizing a PAC or taking donations; I’m not hiring a campaign team.” He released supporters from any obligation they might feel to support his candidacy, telling them, “Please feel free to sign up on a campaign for a person you believe may become our best nominee.”
Romney supporters could have been excused if they came away from the conference call on which he delivered his remarks asking, “Why?”
“I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination,” Romney told them. “Our finance calls made it clear that we would have enough funding to be more than competitive. With few exceptions, our field political leadership is ready and enthusiastic about a new race. And the reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening.”
He continued, “One poll out just today shows me gaining support and leading the next closest contender by nearly two to one. I also am leading in all of the four early states. So I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight.”
Romney then explained his reasons for not taking the clear road to the Oval Office.
“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. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”
Some Romney supporters may choose to question the logic here: Why give up a sure thing for the possibility that a new and exciting leader might emerge from the field to lead the GOP to victory?
Regardless of any confusion among supporters, Romney’s decision will have widespread effects as other potential contenders reassess the state of the GOP field. His departure opens up a crowded GOP field for even more entrants. Yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced he’s forming an exploratory committee as he ponders whether to jump into the GOP nomination race.
A folksy defense hawk and former House member, Graham launched the Security through Strength committee, enabling him to raise money and travel before he makes a final decision. While his moderate views on immigration and the environment will likely limit his appeal among party conservatives in the early primary and caucus states, Graham told reporters, “My form of conservatism has been accepted in South Carolina and maybe it will be accepted outside of South Carolina.”
Graham and his close friend, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ), are major critics of President Obama’s foreign policy and defense posture and favor stepped up military force – including the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS. Those views would put Graham at odds with a current GOP frontrunner, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who represents the party’s libertarian wing.
McCain, who has urged Graham to run, has described his friend as “a dark horse” candidate.
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