The idea that Mitt Romney will wage a third presidential campaign in 2016 just won't die. And now he's feeding the beast, telling donors in New York that he indeed might run again -- just as Jeb Bush threatens to take the mantle of the GOP establishment favorite.
This will continue for three basic reasons:
1) Romney is keeping himself in the news
2) GOP leaders genuinely like Romney -- a lot
3) Polls show Romney doing well in the 2016 primary and even beating Obama in a hypothetical re-do 2012 election.
That second reason is big. For as much as Romney was criticized for not connecting with average Americans, GOP leaders see him for the strengths he has: He's a serious politician and a likeable guy with business experience and unrealized potential. He's the guy they want to succeed.
But the third reason Romney-for-president won't go away -- the polls -- is overblown. Yes, Romney has led some early 2016 polls -- at least until Bush got in (one Iowa poll had him up by more than 20 points) -- but that's because he's the one guy that people really know. And yes, he beats Obama, but that's because Obama is pretty unpopular these days.
And therein lies the real reason Romney 2016 makes no sense: His image. Despite very much remaining in the news in recent months, Romney's image hasn't gotten any better since 2012. And in fact, it might be worse.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in September showed 33 percent of Americans had positive impressions of Romney, while 39 percent have negative ones. That's six points underwater. More recently, CNN/ORC showed him at 43/48 and McClatchy/Marist had him at 43/51.
Few polls have shown Romney in positive territory since 2012. By contrast, the last NBC/WSJ poll of the 2012 campaign showed a 43/44 split on Romney's image numbers, and most late-2012 polls had him above-water too. So he has lost ground, if anything.
Similarly, NBC/Marist College polls conducted around the same time as the one above showed Romney's numbers were way underwater in the swing state of Colorado (40 percent favorable/51 percent unfavorable) and weren't even good in deep-red states like Kentucky (44/41) and Arkansas (38/45). Arkansas is a state Romney won by 24 points in 2012.
There is a certain corner of the Republican Party that won't let the 2012 election go and will continue to pine for another Romney redux, truly believing he has the goods to deliver the third time.
But as these numbers show, before Romney becomes the GOP's 2016 savior, he'll have to make average Americans love him half as much as party leaders do.
(h/t Mark Murray)