For months, out of respect for the process and his friends in the crowded GOP field, the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee has told friends and the candidates who have courted him that he is happy to share stories and advice but is not inclined to endorse, at least not so early on.
But Iowa is, at a minimum, stirring a fresh assessment.
Romney shares the view, associates say, that if Donald Trump loses New Hampshire, his campaign would likely collapse, suffering back-to-back defeats in the first two contests that would strip the billionaire businessman of his “winning” brand.
Can Trump be beat in New Hampshire? That is the question, especially given that several “establishment,” or more traditional center-right Republicans, are contesting — along with Trump — for the slice of the electorate that gave Romney his big 2012 win in New Hampshire.
The former Massachusetts governor now calls New Hampshire home, and he has a deep network of supporters from his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
A Romney endorsement before Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary would no doubt be a boon for the lucky recipient.
Again, those who have discussed the question with Romney say caution is his watchword.
And as recently as the past 48 hours, Romney has told associates in at least two of the GOP campaigns that he has no plan to endorse before New Hampshire votes.
But close Romney allies do not rule out a last minute change of heart. In saying that, they acknowledge a shift in his thinking about the race post-Iowa, and these sources tell CNN that should Romney decide to drop his neutrality before Tuesday, the all-but-certain recipient of that blessing would be Marco Rubio.
CNN is told there is a fresh Rubio effort to win Romney’s endorsement based on his third place showing in Iowa.
This would obviously be-dare I say it-HUGE for Rubio should it come to pass. Trump has a formidable lead in the RealClearPolitics average but Rubio has been trending upward. Then again, all the polls in recent weeks had Trump winning Iowa.
At some point we may have to outlaw polling.
Even hardcore Trump and Cruz partisans admit this is a three-way race between their guys and Rubio. The advantage is to the former two if Jeb, Christie and Kasich hang around a bit longer, as their donors would almost certainly go to Rubio. If Romney weighs in early for Rubio, it would most likely propel him to a stronger finish in New Hampshire. He may not win, but it would be enough to chase the other establishment favorite wannabes.
However, as the CNN article points out, and as disgruntled conservatives painfully remember, Romney isn’t terribly bold and generally opts to hurt as few feelings as possible.
Which is why he lost an election to Candy Crowley.