US News & World Report

By Nicole Hemmer

"Mitt Happens." That was the slogan emblazoned on the campaign button I bought at a rally for then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney here in Florida two years ago. Though not official Romney-Ryan gear, the pin perfectly captured Romney’s relationship to the party he was representing: there by default. He had been everyone’s second choice, and in 2012, that was enough to nab him the nomination. He went on to be the country’s second choice as well, losing to President Barack Obama. At the end of the otherwise unremarkable Netflix documentary about his run, Mitt and Ann Romney roamed around an empty house, aimless in the aftermath. Mitt happened, and that was that.

Which is why when news broke recently that Romney was seriously considering a third run for president, even seasoned political observers were caught off guard. There has been no sense of destiny surrounding him, no gap in the field for the Massachusetts moderate to plug. But it’s exactly the unexpectedness of Romney’s announcement that makes Romney 2016 a tantalizing prospect.

As a 2012 candidate, Romney presented himself as the even-keeled technocrat — a numbers-guy with data-driven solutions, a family man who never drank and seldom swore. Surrounded by a veritable clown car full of unpredictable, unpolished candidates, he stood out as the reasonable compromise. There was a sense, as Election Day dawned, that he was susceptible to a bit of delusion — a Boston Harbor fireworks display was ready to go for a victory celebration that would never happen – but he wasn’t the first candidate to get caught up in the we-can’t-lose spirit of the campaign.

The decision to start putting together a 2016 run, however, suggests that self-delusion runs deep. If Romney had the wind to his back in 2012 — other serious candidates stayed out, preferring to accrue more experience in office and avoid a contest against an incumbent president — it’s all headwinds for next year’s race. The GOP will muster a deep and talented field, featuring both red-meat ideologues and studious moderates. And while some of the them will have a whiff of also-ran about them (ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, anyone?) most will bring with them the excitement of the new that Romney, running for a third time in as many election cycles, simply can’t replicate.

But perhaps that explains what Romney has to offer: He’s the known quantity in the crowd. Having watched candidate after candidate stumble in 2012, he knows about the unpredictability of the GOP primaries. Potential candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen.Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky all seem to have the skill and support necessary to make a serious play for the nomination, but so did former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry once upon a time.

And Romney is mixing things up with some unpredictability of his own. There is a pettiness coming out of his camp that suggests a personal edge to his 2016 ambitions (“A Bush can’t beat a Clinton,” Romney reportedly joked to donors). There is a strong sense of purpose, even pride, to his conviction that he is the only Republican for the job. And there is a bit more looseness these days (witness Romney with a bird perched in his mussed hair) that could make the famously robotic candidate more fun this go around.

To be sure, it’s a tough road ahead for the perennial candidate. One has to go back to Richard Nixon to find a Republican who won the nomination after losing a general election. As someone who has compared Romney to Nixon in the past, I grant that he could follow in Nixon’s footsteps. But just as the former vice president had to transform himself into the New Nixon, the former nominee will need to turn himself into Romney 3.0. The bird-bearing, Bush-bashing Romney of late shows he might be able to do just that. It may seem like a long shot, but as we’ve seen before, Mitt happens.

This article was originally published in the US News & World Report