Mitt Romney hasn't disappeared from the political scene the way many people thought he would after coming up on the losing end of the 2012 presidential race. But, that doesn't mean he's running for president -- or even thinking about running for president -- in 2016.
Talk of a possible third presidential bid for Romney has surfaced of late -- with poll numbers that show he is well regarded by Republican voters and a growing sense within the GOP smart set that no candidate has really emerged from the pack as of yet.
Romney has, of course, batted down such speculation. "I'm not running, and talk of a draft is kind of silly," Romney told "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory earlier this month. That's consistently been his position for quite some time; he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in February that "I'm not running for president in 2016. It's time for someone else to take that responsibility and I'll be supporting our nominee." (Kudos to CNN for gathering the many ways Romney has said he's not running for president into a single blog post.)
But, one quirk of human nature is this: We always want what we can't have. Or, in Romney's own incredibly awkward (but accurate) phrasing: "The unavailable is always the most attractive, right? That goes in dating as well."
The more Romney insists he's not interested, the more people become intrigued at the prospect of him running. Remember how Al Gore suddenly became a figure of maximum intrigue in the political world just a few years removed from losing an ultra-winnable presidential race in 2000? He did it by making clear he didn't want to run. Works every time.
Now, Romney has been around the political game long enough to know that people are only interested in you as long as you are uninterested in them. As soon as Romney indicated that, well, sure, he might want to run again, all of the old complaints -- he's too wooden! he's out of touch! -- would come roaring back.
Think of Romney's current popularity like this: There is a ball just out of his reach. He could definitely grab it. But, as soon as he lunges for it, the ball starts to move away from him. The faster he runs toward it, the further it gets away from him.
Say what you will about Mitt Romney but he is no dummy. He gets it. And that's why he's not running.
Now, on to the 10 men (no women!) with the best chance of winding up as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. Agree or disagree with our picks? That's what the comments section is made for.
10. Paul Ryan: The Wisconsin Republican's total lack of interest in making a play for a House leadership post following Eric Cantor's stunning loss earlier this month left me, again, wondering just what the heck he wants out of his political career. The answer is elusive but now seems to be that he wants to bide his time and see where the party -- in Congress and nationally -- goes over the next few cycles. At 44 years old, he can afford to wait. (Previous ranking: 9)
9. Bobby Jindal: The Louisiana governor is running for president. The latest piece of evidence was a two-day swing through Iowa, stopping by the state Republican convention and raising money for the state party. Jindal, in his day job, is building a record that hard-core conservatives will love. He rejected the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and, more recently, issued an executive order to withdraw the state from the Common Core education standards program. (Previous ranking: 7)
8. Ted Cruz: The last week in politics has to give the Texas Republican Senator some pause. His preferred candidate in Oklahoma's Republican Senate primary got walloped on Tuesday, the same night tea party insurgent Chris McDaniel inexplicably lost to establishment pick Thad Cochran in the Mississippi Senate runoff. Cruz has a loyal base of support. But, it's not big enough to be the nominee. (Previous ranking: 6)
7. Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor is doing the sorts of things one does when he wants to run for president. He stumped for Mike Campbell, a candidate for
North Carolina South Carolina lieutenant governor earlier this month. He's giving the wink and nod statements of interest that are part of the game. And, polling in Iowa at least shows he remains popular; a recent Des Moines Register poll showed Huckabee had the second highest favorable ratings of any potential 2016 GOPer. (Paul Ryan was at the top.) (Previous ranking: 8)
6. John Kasich: The Ohio governor is the "it boy" of the smart-set in DC at the moment. He looks to be on his way to a comfortable re-election victory in the swingiest state in the country at the presidential level. He's run for president before and no one we talk to says he doesn't want to again. If Kasich wins this fall and shows some interest in the race, he could move up these rankings. (Previous ranking: N/A)
5. Chris Christie: Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. The news, which broke this week, that the feds are investigating the New Jersey governor's use of Port Authority funds to repair the Pulaski Skyway, further complicates Christie's political rehabilitation efforts. Whether or not anything in this latest investigation gets to Christie remains very unclear but it's just another bad storyline that he has to deal with at a time when he wants to pivot to the process of running for president. (Previous ranking: 4)
4. Scott Walker: Speaking of bad headlines, the Wisconsin governor has had to weather some of his own lately over allegations of illegal coordination between his 2012 recall campaign and outside groups aiding that effort. But, earlier this week, an attorney for the special prosecutor tasked with looking into the allegations made clear that Walker was not a target of the probe. That was a nice piece of news for Walker -- and should help him quiet the storm of coverage that had popped up over the past 10 days or so. (Previous ranking: 5)
3. Rand Paul: Paul is the most interesting candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination. He's also the one -- with the possible exceptions of Rubio and Jeb Bush -- who can make a credible case that nominating him would expand the GOP into parts of the electorate it hasn't been able to reach in recent years. Paul remains somewhat unpredictable -- that's also part of his appeal -- and it remains to be seen whether he could win a one-on-one fight with a more establishment candidate. (Previous ranking: 2)
2. Marco Rubio: The last time we wrote about the 2016 presidential field in this space, we recommended buying stock in the Florida Senator. That's still our recommendation -- particularly as Walker and Christie have stumbled a bit as of late. Rubio's record in the Senate -- with the exception of immigration reform -- is solidly conservative and he is probably the most naturally gifted candidate in the field. We keep hearing whispers that Rubio's record during his time as Speaker of the Florida house is ripe for an opposition researcher but we're not there yet. (Previous ranking: 3)
1. Jeb Bush: Until he says "no" -- and we still think that's more likely than him saying "yes" -- we are going to keep the former Florida governor at the top of these rankings. That ranking is largely built on his last name and the political and fundraising muscle it represents. As Philip Bump noted in a recent Fix post, however, Jeb's record on core conservative policies is not so good. (Previous ranking: 1)