Opinion writer
In a speech in Salt Lake City March 3, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney denounced support for candidate Donald Trump, saying Trump "is playing the members of the American public for suckers." Here are key moments from that speech. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

David French, an Iraq War vet and conservative writer, did the sensible thing in announcing he will not run for president as an independent candidate. He wrote that “the best chance for success goes to a person who either is extraordinarily wealthy (or has immediate access to extraordinary wealth) or is a transformational political talent. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve my country, and I thank God for the successes I’ve had as a lawyer and a writer, but it is plain to me that I’m not the right person for this effort.” It says something about his character that he wouldn’t waste other people’s time and money on a futile effort that would make them all look foolish, and something about big donors who were willing to do just that.

French’s decision leaves me wondering once again: So why won’t Mitt Romney run? In some sense, he is the father of the #NeverTrump movement, having spoken out again and again in opposition to Donald Trump and declared that he would not support him. According to multiple sources, Romney was instrumental in trying to recruit an alternative to Trump and Hillary Clinton. One wonders why he is still declining to run. It cannot be because:

  • There is someone better. There is no one else.
  • He thinks his chances are worse than those of an utter unknown such as French, someone he appeared willing to support.
  • He thinks it is logistically or financially impossible; he’s been telling other potential candidates the opposite.
  • He is unprepared to serve or lacks ideas for turning the country around.
  • He fears an independent run would simply hand the election to Trump; he was willing to support such a run.
  • He thinks Trump has improved or shown promise; if anything, Trump has become more erratic, spiteful and incoherent since sewing up the nomination. Romney in early March already saw that, with “Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”
  • He fears for his future viability as a candidate (as fresher Republican faces might); this plainly would be his swan song.
  • He thinks he might lose. Well, of course he might — but he was willing to ask others to undertake the same risk of disappointment.

Barring some unknown health or family reason, one is hard-pressed to come up with a rationale for refusing to run. Two of Romney’s closest advisers did not return queries on his thinking. Maybe they don’t know either.

No one is required to run for president. Nevertheless, if one has the means, the skill, the experience and certainty that the cause is just, then refusing to come to the country’s rescue — when literally no one else can — arguably is shirking a moral obligation. Romney of all people knows the serious baggage that comes with Clinton and the dangers Trump poses. “His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president,” Romney said. “And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”

So Romney won’t move to stop Clinton and Trump because . .  . because why, exactly?