Why Mitt Romney wants in on 2016

Story highlights

Gloria Borger: Romney seemed uninterested months ago, but now he's looking at it seriously

He likes his chances in the very crowded GOP presidential field

CNN  — 

Well, I guess he is now.

Gloria Borger

What a difference a few months makes. Now, multiple sources inside the Romney bubble tell me (and everyone else) that they “bet” that he gets in the race. And we will know something within “the next few weeks.” He had a great midterm election, they point out. (As in: he campaigned like crazy for candidates who won in red states that Romney had won.) He believes that he was right on foreign policy positions that he was “mocked” for during the 2012 campaign. (As in: Russia is our “No.1 geopolitical foe.”) Oh, and by the way, he still thinks he can manage the economy better than anyone out there.

But, almost to a person, those close to Romney also say this: don’t get too analytical about this new decision. One source close to Romney, who has spoken with him about this calculation, puts it this way: “This is about the burning ambition of a guy who believes he would be a great president. He believes he is the right guy for the job. Period. It’s not complicated.”

Which brings us to the rationale for the rest of the ever-expanding field, which is also not complicated: why not run? It’s not very often that you have the conjunction of two key situations – an open Oval Office and a party without an obvious frontrunner. The GOP establishment has not coalesced around New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as some thought might happen. Jeb Bush, another somewhat unexpected contender, has never run in a presidential primary. The tea party has a gaggle of candidates to choose from, and hasn’t settled, either.

So, from a cost-benefit standpoint, there’s no downside for those entering the presidential sweepstakes for the first time. Let’s say you know you probably won’t win, but – looking back at the last campaign – you’ll probably get your 15 minutes of fame. (Can you say Herman Cain?) It’s a good way to elevate yourself if you bring anything at all to the table. And even if you don’t, it’s still a good platform from which you can increase your speech fees, board availabilities and TV appearances. So get behind that podium, asap.

Romney, of course, is in a different category: he has more to lose. He’s a man who lost in 2012 with grace and carried on in the same manner. He was indefatigable during the midterms. Here’s the rub: Once you have been a party’s nominee, and you vie again, you need to do well. Looking back into semi-recent history, Richard Nixon stands out as a winner on that level, nominated in 1960, nominated again by Republicans and winning in 1968. Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson, the other hand, not so much. He ran against Dwight Eisenhower and lost in 1952 and lost again in 1956. Generally, one-time presidential nominees who lose tend to decide they’re not up for the thrill of it all again.

And while Romney allies swear this decision isn’t about the qualifications of the rest of the field, he clearly hasn’t looked around and found a candidate he thinks is as good as he is.

“He’s not motivated by some sense of entitled ambition,” says a Romney ally. “It’s just that Romney looks at the field and believes he has a lot to offer. And we think experience is an advantage.”

Translation: These other guys have no idea what they’re in for, and I do.

A favorite analogy of Romney supporters is the Super Bowl.

“It makes a big difference to have been there before,” says one adviser. Another finds the analogy helpful when referring to Jeb’s now-famous declaration (and Romney jab) that the GOP nominee needs to be willing to “lose the primary to win the general” to keep principles intact.

“The process is the process,” this Romney supporter says. “You can’t show up at the Super Bowl and say ‘I wish it was an 80-yard field.’”

In other words, Jeb, you have to win the primaries in order to win the nomination.

Underlying all of this are two Romney presumptions. First, that he would be a better candidate. And next, that he would run a better campaign.

That remains to be seen. But here’s what is already obvious: Republicans see Hillary Clinton as probably inevitable as the Democratic nominee and completely gettable as their opponent. They believe the Democrats can’t duplicate the Obama coalition without Obama. They understand the gender gap will grow, but they figure Clinton’s liabilities will grow, too – as a candidate and as a former secretary of state.

“Romney was a poor candidate up against a machine and he got 47% of the vote,” says a Democratic strategist. “I don’t blame them for thinking they can win.”

Romney could not have said it better himself.

Something important happened this week in the 2016 GOP primary contest. (Yes, as we say at CNN, it’s really “Happening Now.”) In case you’re not glued to the candidates’ stump appearances quite yet, allow me to parse their words for you.

Read CNNOpinion’s new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.