Mitt Romney tells supporters in a conference call that he will not run for president in 2016. (The Washington Post)

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, made the right decision to not seek his party’s nomination for a third run. By bowing out today, Romney becomes a statesman of his party rather than a punch line for comedians. Besides, Sarah Palin has the latter role on lockdown. The talk over the past month didn’t hold out much hope that the scuttled endeavor would not end up being a sad quest for relevance. Philip Rucker’s story in The Post just two days ago saying that Romney would “rebrand himself as authentic” only served to highlight the very real bind such a move would put him in.

The remarks Romney released to the Hugh Hewitt radio show before his 11 a.m. call with supporters left no doubt that he wanted to be president. “I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination,” Romney said. But he bowed to reality. “After putting considerable thought into making another run for president,” he said, “I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee.”

Romney’s otherwise gracious statement did pack a barely veiled punch at Bush, his main establishment rival.

I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

Bush, the 61-year-old former Florida governor who is the son of the 41st president and the brother of the 43rd president, is neither “next generation” nor “not…as well known” nor “just getting started.” But he is the fundraising and political juggernaut that snuffed Romney’s persistent presidential ambitions.

Romney urged those on today’s call to “stay engaged.” I hope he follows that advice. Just because Romney isn’t running for president doesn’t mean he has to stop speaking. Just because he won’t be his party’s nominee doesn’t mean that his ideas aren’t worth debating. Even though Romney would have been an unlikely messenger for concern about income inequality and I would have a hard time believing him due to a lengthy record of political promiscuity, I was looking forward to hearing him flesh out his ideas. Now that he is free of the soul-crushing confines of a campaign, I hope he will follow through.

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