Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Romney Comments Add To Speculation On GOP Presidential Race


The GOP field for 2016 is shaping up, and it's getting crowded. The latest person to seriously consider throwing his hat in the ring is the man who ran last time - Mitt Romney. True, Romney has said in the past he would not run again. In September, he told Fox News that he knows he would've made a better president than Barack Obama, but...


MITT ROMNEY: Let me tell you - it was a great experience running for president. I loved that. But my time has come. I have come and gone. I had that opportunity. I ran. I didn't win. And now it's time for someone else to pick up the baton.

MONTAGNE: Here to discuss what Romney's apparent change of heart means for the GOP nominating battle is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So did Mitt Romney come out publicly and really say, in so many words, he wants to run again?

LIASSON: He didn't come out publicly. But he did something that might've been even more important. He told a group of big donors last week that he was considering another run for president. Up until that moment, most Republicans believed or maybe hoped that he would not run again. But his announcement has been a huge development inside the Republican world of donors and operatives and grassroots activists - the people who really are the only ones paying a tremendous amount of attention to the Republican nominating contest right now.

MONTAGNE: And it - I mean, is this important now because this is where the money is?

LIASSON: Well, right now, the reason this is important is that up until now, Jeb Bush was the candidate that a lot of donors and Republican establishment figures were rallying around. Bush had been moving very aggressively and very quickly to win what could be called the invisible primary or the money primary. Someone who can raise a tremendous amount of money like Jeb Bush and assemble a team very quickly can make it harder for other candidates, particularly candidates who would be coming from the same establishment wing of the party - for them to raise money.

I'm talking about governors like Chris Christie or Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich. Those are just a very few of the many Republicans who are interested in being president. But if Romney got in, it would mean that there would be a big battle in that establishment lane of the Republican nominating contest. Jeb Bush would have some competition from someone who could raise a lot of money. Romney's supporters point to polls that show him in the lead. Yesterday, a poll from Iowa, for example, showed him at 21 percent and Jeb Bush at 14 percent. Although at this time in the cycle, that is probably just name recognition. The big question though is, is there a clamor inside the Republican Party for another Romney candidacy?

MONTAGNE: Ok, Mara. Is there a clamor for another Romney candidacy?

LIASSON: Well, I have been looking very, very hard, and I haven't found one. His old loyalists say that Romney would run differently this time. He's learned from experience. He'd make poverty a focus. But the pushback to another Romney run has been pretty withering. The Wall Street Journal editorial page slammed him yesterday. They said if Romney is the answer, what is the question? The editorial went on to say it's hard to see what advantages Romney would bring to the field that other governors thinking about running do not bring. And as one Republican strategist said to me, it ought to be a signal when the most important conservative newspaper in the country treats you that way after you float a trial balloon. So I guess I would say the trial balloon that Romney floated has - right now, has a lot of punctures in it.

MONTAGNE: Then let's talk finally about what else might be significant in the field right now at this very early stage.

LIASSON: It is very early. But it's really interesting. The field is absolutely humongous. There is no obvious front-runner. The establishment might be coalescing - or trying to coalesce - around Jeb Bush. But he is not a field-clearing candidate. There are a lot of mainstream Republicans, governors particularly, looking at running, as I mentioned. There are also a lot of conservative insurgents - tea party or evangelical-backed conservatives like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson. There are people who are trying to straddle both wings of the party like Rick Perry and Marco Rubio.

This is going to be a very big field full of serious candidates - unlike 2012. And there is going to be a real debate about the future of the Republican Party, about issues like foreign policy and education and immigration. The other thing that really strikes me when you talk to Republicans about 2016 is how confident they are about winning. They believe Hillary Clinton can be defeated.

They say not only is history on their side - that is, the only person who's succeeded a two-term president of their own party is George H. W. Bush. But there is a very strong, widely held belief among professional Republicans that Hillary Clinton is just not a good candidate, despite the structural advantages the Democrats have in the electoral college.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.