A little after 9 p.m. Thursday night, in a small room at the Union League Club of Chicago, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were trying to find towels. Romney’s shoulders were soaking, his normally well-brushed hair matted and wet. A few minutes earlier, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee had doused his ticket-mate with a heaping pail of ice water to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“What’s going through my head? A bucket of cold water,” Romney said to Ryan as they sat down for their first joint print interview since their defeat in the 2012 presidential election.
“It was pretty good — and it’ll be on YouTube,” Ryan laughed.
Relaxing with Ryan before they both headed off to different cities, the second-place finisher in the last presidential race railed against the frontrunner in the next, mocking Hillary Clinton’s attempt to “reset” relations with Russia during President Obama’s first term.
“Looking at her record, seeing how ineffective she was in securing more security, is going to be a great handicap for her in the general election,” said Romney. “I don’t think it’ll hurt her in the primary, but it will in the general.
“That picture of her with the foreign minister of Russia, smiling ear to ear with that red reset button, I presume that’s going to be an ad. Of all the miscalculations in foreign-policy history, that stands out as an unfortunate one.”
His former running mate also downplayed Clinton’s fall odds. “She’s beatable,” said Ryan. “Her assets are her name identification, her ability to fundraise, and her campaign experience. Her liabilities are policies and track record. She was one of the architects of the Obama foreign policy.
“I also think there may be a little fatigue,” he added. “People will be looking for someone new. She may be riding high now, but people may decide against having another four years of this kind of governing.”
Alluding to some of the unrest in the GOP over foreign policy – the friction between the camp of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and those who seek a more muscular foreign policy -- Romney said now is “not the time for academic debates.”
“Our party has to come together, or we will continue with a third term of Barack Obama, with an agenda led by President Obama and Harry Reid,” said the former Massachusetts governor. “That agenda has led us to a foreign policy vacuum that is threatening the things we hold dear, including our own safety.”
Trail-ready language like that – along with a string of state-level appearances and robust candidate support -- has stoked GOP chatter about a possible third Romney run for the Oval Office.
It’s a revival few expected. But Romney has seen his political capital ascend in Republican circles over the past year, with the well-reviewed Netflix documentary “MITT” and his many appearances for GOP candidates reviving his reputation in a party that never fully embraced him as its standard-bearer. Carefully picking where he campaigns, he’s been able to play elder statesman in financial rainmaker in several Senate and gubernatorial races.
This month alone, Romney has campaigned in Arkansas, West Virginia, and North Carolina. In September, he’s planning visits to the presidential swing states of Colorado and Virginia.
Ryan has stoked 2016 chatter at times himself, such as when he visited Iowa in April to speak to state Republicans. But his pitch there seemed to be more about seeking to soothe the roiling divisions in the GOP than positioning himself for a presidential bid. He has not been to New Hampshire since January 2013. And his colleagues in the House GOP said his excitement about taking over the powerful House Ways and Means Committee next year is the clearest sign yet that his attention for the short term is on Capitol Hill, rather than on making till-the-soil trips to early primary states.
Still, for a party that has no frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination, Romney and Ryan represent two potential candidates who many see as natural possibilities, given their experience -- and their lack of legal headaches, which have plagued other White house contenders like Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) as he has dealt with a bridge-closing scandal, and Gov. Rick Perry (R-Tex.), who was recently indicted for alleged abuse of power.
Speaking Thursday in Chicago, Romney and Ryan teased the audience by encouraging each other to seek the White House.
“Third time’s the charm,” Ryan said of Romney. Romney’s reply: Ryan “wouldn’t be a bad president” himself. The conservative business crowd there ate it up, laughing and applauding.
“As you see how things have gone, I think we’re at an ‘I told you so’ moment,” Ryan said later. “Mitt is being vindicated on foreign policy and on domestic policy. I think people are seeing that his projections were correct and the kind person he is.”
He turned to Romney. “You know, I haven’t even told you this, but that documentary on Netflix gives people the view of the person we know,” he said. “It shows that we missed an opportunity to elect someone who would’ve been a great president. People seem to be reassessing.”
Still, Romney himself continues to dismiss the odds of a hat trick campaign.
“My posture, and I’ve explained this many times, is that I’m not running, but I hope Paul will give it thought and there are other good people in the party giving thought, getting things organized,” he said. “I think you’ll see a very crowded debate in the first debate or two, and then hopefully narrow it down to someone who can express our vision to help the middle class in America and win in the general election.”
More from Romney and Ryan’s first joint print sitdown since 2012 coming later this afternoon.