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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Say you’re Mitt Romney, and you still can’t believe you lost the 2012 election. You’ve been aiming barbs at President Obama and sending heartwarming Christmas cards featuring your large family. In 2014, you star in a flattering documentary and post charming photos of your hike through the Mountain West with five of your 22 grandchildren. When asked whether you will make a third try for the White House, you and your wife say absolutely not, many times in many ways.

And then suddenly you’re giving off definitive “let’s do this thing” vibes: telling donors you will almost certainly run, calling former allies and aides, adding yourself to the program at the Republican National Committee meeting in San Diego and inviting conservative radio host Laura Ingraham to an “off the record” lunch at a ski resort in Utah, after which she tells The Washington Post you were “fully engaged and up to speed,” and seemed no longer content to be “just a passive player in American politics.”

So what catapulted you off the sidelines? Jeb Bush’s forceful entry into the emerging field was the spark. But you’ve been reconsidering for a while, looking at the other establishment favorites and wondering why the heck not. It’s not like you’re too old. The baby boom generation is still clogging up the runway. At 67, you’re about the same age as Hillary Clinton and not all that much older than Jeb, who will be 62 next month. As for old news, you’re practically a fresh face compared with Clinton, who has been in the news nonstop for more than two decades. And seriously, how damaging is a third grab for the ring when your competition is the third guy in his family to run?

What else is Romney thinking? Let’s go inside his head.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s tendency to erupt at people was fun for a while and raised lots of money, he muses. But I can raise money, too. And while I’m kind of awkward sometimes, I’m pretty sure voters won’t want a president who gets into public screaming matches. Not that I hold a grudge against Christie, even though his 2012 convention keynote was much more about him than me. But what makes him think people are going to disregard eight downgrades in his state’s credit rating, a poor job-creation performance or investigations into Bridgegate, the five-day traffic nightmare that punished a Democratic mayor? I certainly won’t.

It’s impressive, yes, that Gov. Scott Walker took on unions and has won three Wisconsin elections in six years. But would voters really pick this untested young candidate over the man who saved the 2002 Olympics and countless floundering businesses? (That would be me). And does Walker have the presence and skills to dominate a national race? I’ve already proven I can crush a sitting president in a debate.

And don’t get me started on Jeb and his family: his father’s reversal on his no-new-taxes pledge; his brother’s wars, deficits and intrusive federal education law; and his own support for comprehensive immigration reforms and Common Core education standards. All I did was sign “Romneycare” when I was governor of Massachusetts. I’ve already denied that it was the model for Obamacare. I’ve already said no other state should be required to do what I did. I’ve already said the federal law should be repealed. Problem solved.

I want to pause here to thank my good friend, the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, for his advice on how to deal with that time I dismissed 47 percent of the country as moochers who are dependent on government, believe they are victims, and will never take responsibility for their lives. Hewitt is right, everyone makes mistakes. Look at Hillary’s “we were broke when we left the White House” gaffe; Rick Perry’s “oops” moment when he forgot the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate; and Jeb’s description of illegal immigration as an “act of love” by people trying to give their families better lives. I never pretend to be poor, and I don’t start lists I can’t finish. Maybe I went a bit too far with the “self-deportation” business on immigration. You won’t hear me use that phrase again.

Above all, I won’t forget that a lot of those 47-percenters are veterans, seniors, low-income workers, the disabled and people searching desperately for jobs. And I won’t forget that a lot of them vote Republican — even for me! I won the seniors and the veterans, and I nearly won the union vote. I’m not only going to remember these folks, I’m going to focus my next campaign on opportunity and upward mobility. Wait, what do you mean, Jeb already named his political action committee Right to Rise, and stole the phrase — with permission — from my own 2012 running mate?

Back to the drawing board for the third round. I know the right message is out there somewhere.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr