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In Opting Out, Romney Bows to Party's Wariness About Another Run

With Mitt Romney’s decision to stand down from the 2016 presidential race, the Republican field is wide open for potential candidates.

The Republican Party rejected a third Mitt Romney presidential campaign.

The former Massachusetts governor cast his decision, in remarks to supporters on Friday that were also released publicly, as a way to make room for another Republican who "may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee." Romney expressed confidence in his standing in the GOP, noting "I am convinced that we could win the nomination."

In reality, the most important reason why Mitt Romney decided against a 2016 presidential run may be that many key Republicans — including past supporters — were not on board.

In the three weeks since Romney told a group of donors he was considering a 2016 campaign, a series of influential Republicans have issued what amounted to anti-endorsements. Nearly all of them said Romney would make a good president, but questioned if the party should make him its candidate again after he lost in 2012.

Many in the GOP say they are excited about the potential field emerging and would rather try Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul or one of the other new hopefuls.

The most significant defections from Romney were people from his 2008 and 2012 primary campaigns, the core backers who had endorsed him over other Republican presidential candidates.

Jeb Bush's team announced this week they have hired David Kochel, who was Romney's chief Iowa strategist in 2012. In interviews with NBC, Brian Kennedy, who was Romney's Iowa chairman in 2012 and Mary Kramer, who served on his leadership team in the state, declined to say if they would support a third run.

Vin Weber, a Romney policy adviser in both 2008 and 2012, had said he was leaning towards Bush, as had Brian Ballard, who was one of Romney's top backers and fundraisers in Florida in 2012.

A slew of other influential Republicans, such as House Speaker John A. Boehner, had also made careful, unenthusiastic remarks about Romney running. Boehner's was notable, as he has publicly urged Bush to run.

Other Republicans were more blunt, such as former Reagan campaign adviser Ed Rollins, who said, "A lot of people were disappointed in the Romney campaign" and would be wary of tapping him as their candidate against Hillary Clinton.

Privately, in conversations with Romney's aides, longtime Romney supporters raised pointed questions about a third run.

Romney's supporters had argued that Ronald Reagan lost GOP primaries in 1968 and 1976 before being elected in 1980. But Romney faced another big obstacle: Jeb Bush.

For party donors and operatives, Bush combines what they like about Romney, an experienced former governor with moderate views on policy issues and a fresh face who has not already been rejected by the electorate. And many in the Republican Party had been supporters of the Bush family, in either George W. or George H.W. Bush's campaigns, before they joined Romney.

Romney has privately suggested Bush's record in business will leave him vulnerable to Democrats attacking him as a rich elitist. Romney, in his own view, has already been vetted, and voters already know anything about him they won't like.

That argument did not convince GOP insiders. Romney's withdrawal from the race will ease the path of Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, the candidates most likely to appeal to more moderate Republicans. It makes Bush the early front-runner, as Romney was the only candidate who already had essentially a brand name in Republican politics.

The Republican field remains wide-open, but it has already winnowed in the last few weeks, with Paul Ryan, Rob Portman and now Romney opting out.