The usual reaction around savvy political intelligentsia to the continued high profile of Mitt Romney as a possible 2016 candidate is mockery and disbelief. After all, no one has won the Oval Office after losing twice, and Republicans generally nominate the person who is considered “next in line”–which in this case would be a Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or perhaps Scott Walker or Rand Paul.

But there’s a problem with all the “next in line” candidates: none of them are hardcore tea party social conservative firebrands. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie in particular are loathed by large segments of the Republican base.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential primary voters tend to date other candidates but end up marrying the most dependable, “electable” choice. If the hardcore social conservatives are unable to line up behind a single alternative, then it comes down to whether Republicans will choose Romney, Christie, Bush or Walker. In that scenario it may well be that Romney will be seen as the most electable of the bunch. Christie has a lot of baggage and comes off as a bully. Bush has baggage and the hated last name. Walker has the least baggage, but he’s also the weakest of the bunch. By the end of the 2012 campaign most Republicans had actually warmed up significantly to Romney and embraced him for his comments about the “47.” There’s a significant chance he would actually walk away with the GOP nomination again.

If he got the GOP nod, Mitt probably still wouldn’t be able to beat Hillary. But if Clinton were unable to run for some reason, and/or if there were a serious economic downturn, I wouldn’t count him out. There are a number of voters out there with buyer’s remorse over their 2012 vote, and Mitt could run on the “none of this would have happened if you had voted for me” platform.

It’s certainly not unthinkable. Progressives would do well to take it more seriously.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.