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As Donald Trump continues to dominate the Republican presidential race, frustration and panic have become high enough to make some inside the party Establishment pine for a candidate they roundly rejected as recently as January: Mitt Romney. Romney himself has become one of Trump’s most vocal detractors inside the party. “He’s someone to whom civility means a lot. The whole Trump thing really bothers him,” a close Romney adviser told me — and some Romney-ites are only too happy to talk up the prospect of their man jumping into the race if the Establishment fails to stop Trump, whose support in Iowa and New Hampshire is currently greater than Jeb Bush’s, Scott Walker’s, Marco Rubio’s, Chris Christie’s, and John Kasich’s combined.
“Mitt wants to run. He never stopped wanting to run,” a senior member of his 2012 team told me. Other Romney-ites, watching this cycle’s candidates falling short, feel a sense of vindication after all the attacks they endured after Romney’s failed 2012 bid. “These guys like Walker and Perry, they were big deals in their states, but you get them onto the national stage and it’s a different story,” a former Romney adviser told me. “It’s like they were in middle school, and now they’re freshmen in high school and they’re getting their faces slammed in the toilets.” Another former Romney adviser complained about Bush’s decision not to go all-in on New Hampshire, a state a moderate must win. “Romney did 100 town halls in New Hampshire from announcement to the primary. It’s madness. Bush has done only 23.”
In reality, the prospect of Romney jumping back into the race at this late date remains exceedingly slim — he’s made no visible signs of reassembling his political operation. But he may be able to influence the race more indirectly from the perch he’s begun carving out for himself as party elder.