Mitt and Ann Romney could co-author a mystery bestseller. Over the past year, the couple has mastered the art of delivering dialog that seems to mean one thing, but, in hindsight, turns out to have meant the opposite.
For months, it has seemed as if the Romneys were saying that Mitt would not run for president in 2016, and that Jeb Bush was their favored replacement. In multiple interviews, they praised the governor, giving the impression, if not quite saying outright, that they would support Bush's candidacy. But then, as Bush moved to solidify GOP donor support in an attempt to clear the Republican field, Romney tossed a wrench in the works.
Late last week, the two-time presidential also-ran met with potential donors, telling them that he wants to be the president and is thinking about entering the field.
A twisting and turning narrative full of as many contradictions and double meanings as the plot of "Gone Girl," here is the past year or so in the Romneys' discussions of Jeb Bush and 2016.
Talking to the New York Times, Romney responded to the inevitable question of whether he would attempt a third presidential bid with an emphatic, "Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no." In that same interview, he included Bush in a list of people he'd support.
"I think that Chris Christie and Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and the list goes on, have a much better chance of doing that, and so I will support one of them as they become the nominee,” he said.
The former Massachusetts governor lavished a little extra attention on Bush in that interview, saying, "I think he would be an excellent candidate. I’d love to see him run for president. And I don’t think it’s because of a dynasty we would be inclined toward Jeb Bush. It’s because he was a great governor and an education governor and reached out to Hispanic voters with great success. I think he’d be a very effective nominee, and potentially a president. I like Jeb a lot."
At the same time, Romney made sure to name-check several of the other contenders. “Oh, I don’t have a top choice. I’m inclined to Jeb and Chris and Paul Ryan, of course, who I think the world of. Scott Walker is extraordinarily impressive. Marco Rubio," Romney said. "We’ve got a number of very, very good people. And part of it is, let them get on the stage and see how they work with one another and how they debate and how they go through the crucible of a campaign, and then we’ll be able to make that selection.”
Ann Romney went on Fox News, where she declared that a Romney 2016 bid looked unlikely. She specifically cited the draw that a Bush candidacy would have on her husband's.
"I think Jeb probably will end up running, myself," she said. "I think he probably is looking at it very carefully. ... I think he would draw on a very similar base that we would draw on and I’m sure he’s considering it pretty seriously right now."
Yet she also left the proverbial door open just a crack. "Mitt and I at this time are not making plans," she added.
Tricky. Very tricky.
Romney appeared on "With All Due Respect," and, once again, extolled the virtues of his potential rival. "I think Jeb is an excellent person, could be a terrific president," Romney said. "I think that about a lot of the people who are running on the Republican side, or who I think will get in."
A week later, Ann Romney gave what seemed like a much more definitive answer on the question of whether her husband would run. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, she expressed in no uncertain terms how she and her family felt about another presidential campaign:
“Done,” she said. “Completely. Not only Mitt and I are done, but the kids are done,” she said, referring to her five sons. “Done. Done. Done.”
Asked whether there were any circumstances under which she would encourage the former Massachusetts governor to attempt another run — or if she would support him if he wanted to run — she said she hadn't “been pushed to that point mentally,” but that they would make the decision together.
She reeled off a long list of what she called “really interesting” potential Republican contenders, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and her husband’s 2012 choice for vice president, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.
“We’re going to see a nice field shake out.”
Perhaps this was just a red herring, meant to throw us off the trail of this most recent plot twist.