There's only one false note in Mark Leibovich's wonderful visit to Mitt Romney's quite nice new life, in which the former Republican nominee — rather than having the letter "L" for "loser" branded on his forehead — is enjoying the low-level celebrity of airport selfies and ongoing flattery of sycophants who say they want him to run for president.
The false note: "a confluence of political realities has created a genuine opening for a Romney third act."
There are a few people who think this is the case: true Romney loyalists and believers, Republicans like Emil Henry, Robert O'Brien, and Hugh Hewitt, who just love the guy and write about it in Politico. They are all but family; I'm not sure what the actual family thinks. Members of his former political staff — people who talk to Romney regularly, and regard him highly — said Tuesday morning that they didn't actually think he'd run, and viewed it, at best, as not a great idea. Indeed, some of his real admirers (and most people who worked for Romney do admire him) were trying out their eye-rolls Tuesday morning at this feeblest of boomlets.
This is, they say, not a thing.
"I respect Romney, but have the queasy feeling that Romney '16 would be a reprise of Dewey '48," Weekly Standard editor and former Romney champion Bill Kristol said in an email.
One top former Romney aide, who likes and respects Romney and thinks he would make a great president, agreed to speak on the condition of not being named or identified, and to outline the broad sense in what's left of Romneyworld.
"It's ridiculous — totally ridiculous," the former aide said.
The core flaw is a kind of cluelessness about how this is going to work, a bit of wishful thinking indulged by a handful of donors who love Romney — but not actually much on the minds of the top Republican fundraisers now thinking about Paul and Cruz, Rubio and Bush, and the other more plausible candidates for president.
"Here's the problem with the theory of the Romney candidacy, as much as I love the guy and as much as I think he'd be a good president," the former aide began. "The problem with the way these [Romney donors and friends] are treating a potential Romney candidacy is that they act as though Romney, if he were to get into the race, picks up where he gets off. As though, because he was the last Republican nominee, he's still the Republican nominee unless he decides to bequeath it to someone else."
"The field is not going to be nearly as weak as it was last time and nobody in the field, including the potential establishment candidates — Jeb or Chris Christie or Scott Walker — believe they should step aside for Mitt Romney," the former aide predicted. "So Romney gets into the race and he's suddenly competing with heavy-duty candidates who have as much claim on the mainstream donor base as he does, and suddenly he's in a messy primary where these people will be going at him in a very nasty way."
And here is the thing that Leibovich's piece really gets at: Mitt Romney has been surprised by his life since the defeat. He predicted he'd be branded a "loser for life" after 2012, his name — like Mike Dukakis' — synonymous with defeat. Instead, he's regarded with warmth, if not passion, by people who still think he would have made a decent president, and don't all blame him for blowing it.
"I think Romney really likes where he is right now," said the former aide. "He's saying, 'Wow — I ran and I lost and I'm still held in high esteem' … He's really taken aback by that. He wants to bottle that."
And to run would, probably, be to give that up for good.
"Wouldn't it be truly pathetic if on his third time he doesn't even win the nomination?" asked the former aide. "Then he does have the 'L' and he's truly truly a diminished figure.
"I think he personally has thought that through more than the people who are pushing him to run."