As the Republican establishment candidates continue to hammer each other while seeking second place in New Hampshire, a political endorsement that may help one of them rise would be one from Mitt Romney.
Donald Trump still leads in New Hampshire with 30 percent, according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll of the state – Sen. Marco Rubio is in second with 14 percent followed by Governor Chris Christie at 12 percent. Ted Cruz is earning ten percent in the state while Jeb Bush and John Kasich are still earning nine percent.
Romney easily won New Hampshire Republican primary in 2012, beating second place finisher Ron Paul by 17 points. Republican moderate Jon Huntsman finished in third place after betting everything on the state. He dropped out shortly afterward.
Dropping out. That’s what Republican establishment candidates want to see from their fellow candidates – and an endorsement from Romney might help wealthy donors and prominent supporters make up their mind.
At this point, there is no indication that Romney will endorse in the Republican primary, although he is reportedly following the race closely.
He hosted six Republican candidates at his annual private retreat in Park City Utah last June – Christie, Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Kasich, and Scott Walker.
Romney indicated at the time that he wasn’t likely to endorse a 2016 candidate in the primaries, hinting that he preferred to get involved after Republicans selected a nominee.
But he left the door open to the possibilities of one scenario in which he would get involved, according to TIME, if a candidate he disagreed with was leading the field.
“At that stage I might jump in and say hey, I’d like to go to work and help the one who’s more in-tune with the things I believe,” Romney said. “But I can’t predict how the process is going to work out.”
It’s unlikely that Romney thought at the time that Donald Trump would be leading in New Hampshire in January 2016. If Trump continues to dominate polling in early states, the former Republican nominee might feel the need to help the remainder of the squabbling establishment field coalesce around one candidate to mount a successful challenge.
At what point does Mitt Romney take Trump seriously? So far, the former Republican presidential nominee has disregarded the idea Trump would succeed – even as the outsider continues to lead the polls.
“I will support the Republican nominee. I don’t think that’s going to be Donald Trump,” Romney said in September 2015 at an Atlantic Ideas Forum. “My party has historically nominated someone who’s a mainstream conservative.”
The following month, Romney suggested in an interview with David Axelrod that Trump had damaged the Republican brand.
“I think Donald Trump has said a number of things which are hurtful, and he has said they were childish in some respects, and I think will be potentially problematic either in a primary or in a general election if he were to become the nominee,” Romney said in October.
Last week, after Trump began calling Ted Cruz’s citizenship into question, Romney played referee – telling the firebrand billionaire that President Obama was born in America – and that Cruz was also a “natural born citizen.”
“This isn’t the issue you’re looking for,” he hinted to Trump, trying to take on an Obi-wan Kenobi role for the Republican party.
Romney and Ted Cruz
Romney’s defense of Cruz was a rare instance where Romney has mentioned the Texas senator. Cruz, after all, has made a career through upsetting the Republican establishment.
Cruz hasn’t been kind to Romney, frequently categorizing the former Massachusetts governor as one in a history of losing moderate presidential candidates.
When Ted Cruz got to Washington D.C as a senator-elect, he ribbed Romney for losing against Obama in the 2012 election, suggesting that he “french-kissed Obama” in the third presidential debate on foreign policy.
In July, Romney lectured Ted Cruz for being “way over the line” after the Texas Senator called Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran a “jihadist stimulus bill” that would make the president the “leading financier of terrorism against America.”
Cruz responded by quoting John Adams, insisting that “facts are stubborn things.”
“Describing the actual facts is not using rhetoric; it is called speaking the truth,” he said, again referring back to the third presidential debate where Romney failed to challenge Obama.
When asked to weigh in the on the presidential race, Romney usually omits Cruz entirely, choosing to highlight his rivals instead.
Marco Rubio or Chris Christie?
In an October interview, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie were on the top of Romney’s list.
“Marco has very compelling attributes, but look at Chris Christie. This is a guy who’s taken on some really tough situations in New Jersey. He’s a great debater. He speaks his mind clearly and forcefully,” he said. “Look, he could be a very strong nominee.”
So it’s no secret that Christie and Rubio are among the candidates that Romney is keenly interested in.
Romney hosted the Rubio and Christie families for an overnight stay at his New Hampshire vacation home in July.
The pair of presidential hopefuls even joined Romney for a yacht trip – and went out for ice cream.
Jeb Bush wasn’t there – even though he was considered a leading candidate at the time for the Republican nomination. Later that month, however, Bush and his wife met the Romneys for lunch.
Romney has made it clear that he is deeply skeptical whether Bush could win against Hillary Clinton – more recently revealing details of a private conversation between the pair in January of last year.
As the Washington Post reported, Romney met with Bush before the campaign officially started and explained to him why he thought the former Florida governor was making a mistake to run for office.
“Jeb, to be very honest, I think it’s very hard for you to post up against Hillary Clinton and to separate yourself from the difficulty of the W. years and compare them with the Clinton years,” Romney told the Post, recounting the details of a meeting that took place January 2015 – when the former Massachusetts governor was thinking about running for president.
According a report from Mark Halperin, Romney saw Bush as a “small-time businessman” who was “weighed down with voters across the board based on his family name” and “doesn’t think much of Bush’s political skills.”
Jeb’s initial surge in the polls nearly led Romney to join the race himself – but he backed down from the idea by the end of the month.
“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 when he decided against another run.
Who is the “next generation” leader that Mitt Romney wants to see run for president? Marco Rubio is the candidate with the most “generational appeal” to the Republican establishment, contrasting well with Hillary Clinton.
But Romney may endorse Christie, should he continue to show strength in New Hampshire out of a sense of loyalty.
In October 2011, Christie endorsed Romney at a critical point in his presidential campaign. At the time, Texas Governor Rick Perry had entered the race, pea conservatives who saw him as a much-needed contrast with the Massachusetts moderate.
Prior to his endorsement, the Republican establishment had begged Christie to run – but he eventually declined – insisting that he was not ready. Instead, he worked hard for Romney convincing donors that the Massachusetts governor was their best option for Republicans in 2012 and regularly stumped for Romney on the campaign trail.
While Romney loyalists were deeply upset that Christie welcomed Obama to his state after Hurricane Sandy right before the election, Romney has insisted in subsequent interviews that he held no hard feelings. Christie was one of Romney’s top candidates for Vice President, but he eventually chose Rep. Paul Ryan – someone who fit Romney’s idea of generational appeal.
Rubio was also on Romney’s short list – but never made it into final consideration. The freshman senator arguably has the same generational appeal that Romney appears eager to promote in the Republican party – but might lack the executive experience that a former governor might want to see in a presidential candidate.
Can Romney Remain On The Sidelines?
Can Mitt Romney stay out of the fight entirely? With Trump so dominant in New Hampshire and other early states, perhaps the former Republican nominee won’t try to exert his influence. But as the Republican establishment struggles with their acceptance of Trump, he might join a last minute effort to challenge the controversial billionaire.
It may be difficult for him to stand idle, as Trump’s brand of politics threatens to take over the Republican party – especially at a time when a modern Republican party is about to seize power in the nation’s capital.