Mitt Edges Up to the Starting Gate

If Mike Allen has become the semi-official “source” for rumors and trial balloons from Hillaryland, then his Beltway insider rival Mark Halperin (with Bloomberg Politics these days) is bidding fair to serve a similar function for the Mitt Romney operation. Today he offers a very detailed interpretation of the news that Romney is holding a conference call with key supporters today to give them an “update” on his thinking about 2016. Though Halperin says the internal calculus is that three factors favoring a run and two pointing in the other direction, it sounds a little more unbalanced than that. The first positive indicator, of course, is that the Mittster, like anyone else who has pursued the job, thinks he’d be aces as president. But numbers two and three are pretty interesting:

The second factor driving Romney towards another run, say those familiar with his thinking, is a host of emphatically encouraging poll results. There is ample public polling that suggests leads in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, as well as nationally. But Romney also has been briefed on what one Republican source describes as a massive, rolling private polling project recently conducted by a wealthy GOP contributor who shelled out his own money to determine which Republican has the best chance of winning the nomination.

The data, collected over an extended period of time in the first twenty states scheduled to hold caucuses and primaries in 2016, shows Romney with a huge lead across the board, and significantly better favorable/unfavorable ratings than the rest of the large potential field. The other prospects who fare well in the research are Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Maryland physician Ben Carson. The source says that after Romney publically expressed an interest in seeking the nomination, his standing in the polls improved. Romney World discounts the notion that these leads are based simply on name recognition.

Wonder if and when we’ll get a gander at that data?

Also pressing Romney forward: the sense that he can perform better in 2016 than he did in 2008 and 2012. Romney believes that if he can convince just a few more voters that he “cares about people” like them he will hold the electoral votes he won last time, while capturing additional states such as Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, and perhaps others. Some members of his 2012 inner circle criticized his decision to remain modest about his decades of work as a lay minister in the Mormon Church, brushing aside scads of earnest testimony from those whose lives he improved through service and charity. In the last campaign, that portrait was briefly sketched on the final day of the nominating convention in Tampa, only to be overwhelmed by the madcap appearance of Clint Eastwood, and further scarred by relentless efforts of the Obama team and its allies to portray Romney as heartless and out of touch with ordinary Americans.

So in the collective memory of Mittsville, it wasn’t the “47 percent” video, the relentless reliance of their own campaign on Mitt’s business biography, or an agenda tailored to “job creators” that led swing voters to believe he wasn’t exactly “on their side,” but rather poor ol’ Clint stepping on one night of messaging! That’s interesting from several angles, isn’t it?

But the part of Halperin’s account that will definitely have tongues wagging all over Washington is his description of Team Mitt’s attitudes towards Establishment rivals Jeb Bush and Chris Christie:

[T]hose familiar with Romney’s thinking now and over the years say that he has held a jaundiced view of the former Florida governor dating all the way back to his handling of the Terri Schiavo case, and has come to see Bush as a non-entity in the 2016 nomination contest. Romney is said to see Bush as a small-time businessman whose financial transactions would nonetheless be fodder for the Democrats and as terminally weighed down with voters across the board based on his family name. Romney also doesn’t think much of Bush’s political skills (a view mocked by Bush’s camp, who say Romney is nowhere near Bush’s league as a campaigner). Romney also considers Bush the national Republican figure who was the least helpful to him during his last run for the White House, a position that has darkened Ann Romney’s view of Bush as well.

Hah! “Small-time businessman.” That’s about as deadly an insult as one Republican can throw at another, isn’t it? You had to work at getting your first ten million or so, didn’t you, piker? And even then you couldn’t cover your tracks!

But worse yet is the assessment of Chris Christie:

Romney and Christie became friends in the last cycle, but Romney nevertheless has dismissed his pal as a non-factor. Thanks to the 2012 veep vetting process, Romney is intimately familiar with some of the less publicized controversies from the New Jersey governor’s past, and believes that several of those flaps would mushroom so broadly that Christie soon would be eliminated from consideration by voters and donors.

This is an elliptical way of saying Team Mitt’s got dirt on Christie that could blow him out of the water, which they are probably sharing as we speak with donor targets. Since Christie’s already doing very poorly in public opinion surveys, this sort of insider talk could really do him in.

All in all, Halperin’s painted a pretty clear picture of a former presidential nominee who has convinced himself the gigantic field of rivals he would face this time around is but a trifle, and is making it clear he’s got the money and the ruthlessness to carpet-bomb intraparty opponents into submission. If he winds up not running, this is quite an effective head-fake.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.