Here we go again.

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Do Republicans Really Want Bush or Romney?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The last time I considered the possibility of Mitt Romney 2016, I said he technically counts as a viable candidate, but realistically it just isn’t going to happen. Romney managed to get everyone’s attention on Friday by yawning and stretching in the direction of another White House run, but I’m not changing my mind. At least not yet.

The Prospect's Paul Waldman, who takes Romney ’16 a lot more seriously, makes the case for what Romney may be thinking. Waldman points out that all presidential candidates are incredibly ambitious and that Romney is almost certainly hearing from everyone around him about how he'd be a better contender than anyone else. He may believe that if he can polish off Jeb Bush, he’ll be able to mop up the others the way he mopped up Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum in 2012.

One way to look at what Romney and Bush have been up to the last couple of years is as a kind of shadowboxing contest where each tries to establish himself as a serious candidate to persuade the other to drop out. The assumption is that whichever of these presumed heavyweights runs will have an easy path to the nomination.

It’s possible they are correct. Republican party actors might be so desperate for a recognizable order to the campaign and familiar names that they will simply flock to Bush or Romney. But it’s at least as likely that real enthusiasm for Romney in particular, and perhaps for Bush as well, doesn’t extend far beyond their relatively small circle of loyalists, and that most party actors -- politicians, campaign and governing professionals, donors and activists, party officials and staff, party-aligned interest groups and media -- are more than ready to move on.

Certainly, the potential candidates (running undeclared for now) -- Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Mike Pence, John Kasich and perhaps a few others -- are a much more formidable bunch than the Herman Cains of 2012. (Returning candidate Mike Huckabee appears to be more formidable than Rick Santorum was in 2012; for that matter, Rick Perry 2016 might have his act together and be a more serious contender than Rick Perry 2012 was.)

What we need now is some reporting about what Republican party actors, especially the ones outside the Bush and Romney orbits, are thinking. While we've had indications that some big-money donors want a recognizable candidate right now, it isn't at all clear how deep that sentiment goes.

If Romney and Bush really are monopolizing resources, we should be seeing otherwise viable candidates begin to drop out of the race, as Rob Portman of Ohio already did back in early December. If we don't see others give up soon, then Romney and Bush are less formidable than some now believe – or else Republican party actors still aren’t convinced they are really in the race.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net