Why try, try again?

If Mitt Romney’s recent declarations were an attempt to test the presidential waters, a lot of the water turned brackish fast.

“The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result,” Rand Paul told the New Hampshire Journal. So much for the old commandment against speaking ill of a fellow Republican — but Paul is a likely future competitor. What about Romney’s old supporters?

“I don’t know, man,” said an uncharacteristically tongue-tied Sen. John McCain, who backed Romney in 2012. “It’s a free country. … I thought there was no education in the second kick of a mule.”

“There’s not a lot of good precedent for somebody losing the election and coming back four years later,” former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., a co-chair of Romney’s 2012 campaign, told Bloomberg Politics. “I think Gov. Romney had two increasingly good years after losing the presidency, and now he’s had one pretty bad week.”

In the face of all this, Romney’s evident desire to run again tells us two things.

First, five years after the 2010 Tea Party insurgency, the Republican establishment isn’t dead; it may be stronger than ever.

Second, Romney’s eagerness to jump into the ordeal of a national campaign is a reminder that people run for president for many reasons. Some, like Jeb Bush or Hillary Rodham Clinton, run not only because they think they would be good presidents, but also because it’s a role for which they’ve been training all their lives, and they are running out of chances to try. (That was true for Romney in 2012, too.)

In Romney’s case, though, there’s an additional impetus: a successful man’s hunger to erase the stigma of failure.

“I have looked at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee of their party,” Romney said at the end of the 2012 campaign, in a moment captured by the documentary “Mitt.” “They become a loser for life. … We just brutalize whoever loses.”

Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

Romney vs. Bush

He didn’t mean to. Romney’s tentative entry into the 2016 Republican presidential fray was intended to stop Bush in his tracks, freezing the drift toward Bush by the Republican establishment-donor-class-realist-pragmatists or whatever you want to call the guys accustomed to calling the party’s shots. Instead, it’s more likely that Romney has done Bush a big favor.

At 61, Bush is younger than 67-year-old Romney and looks like a fresh face compared with a candidate who has twice tried and failed to become president, and who wasn’t even much loved after he had won the 2012 nomination. Bush is personally untainted by failure — electoral or governmental; his executive reign over Florida was widely considered a conservative success.

Similarly, Bush’s deviations from Republican orthodoxy appear less toxic when he is compared with the paterfamilias of Obamacare. Over the course of his career, Romney’s true north has been highly variable. Bush is attempting — we’ll see if it lasts — to establish himself as a direct contrast to such flip-floppery. (Bush knows that the base knows that he knows that the base knows that his stands on Common Core and immigrants hurt him.)

Bush’s principles offend the base — but perhaps not as much as Romney’s pandering does. The base never confused Romney’s embarrassing entreaties with fidelity; for the Tea Party wing of the party, Romney is just as much of an ideological threat as Bush. And his mere presence in the public sphere makes Bush’s spine appear straighter, stronger.

Francis Wilkinson, Bloomberg News

Revisiting the car elevators

In March 2012, Politico revealed that Mitt and Ann Romney’s renovation of their $12 million beachfront home, one of three they owned, would include a two-level, four-car garage with a mechanized lift: “The cars,” Politico reported, “will have their own separate elevator.”

In reality, the car elevator was a nifty — if expensive — design solution for the house, located on a narrow street of pricey homes jammed together on overbuilt lots with jaw-dropping ocean views near San Diego. The location would have made for a picturesque Western White House, something the country has not had since the days of Ronald Reagan, with his mountaintop ranch above Santa Barbara, or Richard Nixon, who famously strolled the beach in front of his San Clemente estate in dress shoes and slacks.

I wondered what had become of the sleepy little enclave where the debate over Romney’s big garage was born, and what neighbors might think about Romney running again.

They were polarized about his candidacy and his remodel. Generally speaking, Republicans didn’t mind either; Democrats were opposed to both.

As for the remodeling, the plans sparked a long, expensive battle typical of California beach development. The Romneys were asking to increase the size of the house from 3,000 square feet to 11,000. Neighbors on both sides of the political divide wrote letters to the local planning department, then the California Coastal Commission. About half supported the Romneys’ plans; half asked the commission to reduce the size of the project, claiming it was too big for the lot.

In October 2013, the coastal panel approved the plans. Construction began last spring and is expected to wrap up before the end of the year. The Romneys’ San Diego attorney, Matthew Peterson, told me they are committed to finishing the remodel but haven’t decided whether they will keep the house or sell it.

When I strolled down the street last week, I found a neighborhood in chaos, abuzz with the sound of hammers and construction saws, jammed with pickup trucks. Every other house, it seemed, had decided to follow the Romneys’ suit.

Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

Free of constraints?

Another Romney run would be genuinely frightening for Republicans — and this is probably why the reaction against it has been so intense — if there were any chance of the candidate doing what he did in 2012: monopolizing fundraising to a point where other potentially electable candidates stay out, carpet-bombing his opponents with attack ads and essentially forcing the party faithful to accept him, flaws and all.

But unless GOP power brokers are truly crazy — and based on the response to Romney’s trial balloon, they aren’t — that isn’t going to happen. Not even close. Instead, a Romney candidacy would depend on a small circle of backers while ceding immense fundraising territory to Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio — the list goes on.

He would be on his own, hanging out in Iowa living rooms and New Hampshire diners, trying to win primaries on the basis of debate performances and flesh-pressing and even (gasp!) ideas, like any other long-shot candidate.

Which is why, purely as human drama, Romney 3.0 could actually be interesting to watch. Maybe he’ll campaign more openly as a Mormon, running ads like the moving testimonials that aired just before Clint Eastwood’s prime time weird-out at the Republican convention, in which his faith and works are played up rather than hidden. Maybe he’ll roll out a sweeping policy agenda on poverty, as he claims he wants to do, amid incredibly awkward but maybe touching photo ops with the rural unemployed and inner-city kids. Maybe he’ll sock Mike Huckabee in the jaw during a debate.

Or maybe he’ll be wooden, clueless and entitled, finish sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, and drop out. In which case, he’ll lose some dignity, but we won’t lose anything at all.

Ross Douthat, New York Times

Five myths about Mitt

1) The Republican establishment foisted Romney onto the rest of the party in 2012: True, a few bigwigs were deeply committed to him from the start. But they hardly represented consensus opinion. That’s why we heard so many entreaties for other candidates to run.

2) Romney lost over immigration: As Politico recently put it, during his last run, Romney “suggested pursuing policies that lead undocumented immigrants to ‘self-deport’ — a remark that cost him badly among Hispanic voters in the general election.” The extent of the damage, though, is easily exaggerated. Even if Romney had fought Obama to a draw among Hispanics — which would have been unprecedented for a Republican — he would still have lost Ohio, Virginia and the election.

3) He lost because he ran too far to the right: Supposedly, under pressure from his rivals in the primaries, Romney took positions that made voters think of him as, well, “severely conservative,” to quote one of his own famously clumsy phrases. Jeb Bush recently suggested that he would try to avoid this dynamic if he ran for president. Yet Romney did not end up defined as an extremist. A Gallup poll in October 2012 found that 37 percent of voters said President Obama was “a lot more liberal” than themselves, whereas just 23 percent said that Romney was “a lot more conservative.”

4) He lost because evangelicals and conservatives deserted him: Exit polls don’t back up the theory. Romney did better among conservative voters than McCain did in 2008. He won roughly the same share of conservatives as George W. Bush did in 2004, the last time Republicans won the presidency — Bush won 84 percent and Romney won 82 percent. Nor was conservative turnout depressed.

5) He was a weak candidate: Suggesting that 47 percent of voters were moochers was a big unforced error. He never said how he would replace Obamacare, and the fact that he had advanced a similar health care plan while governor of Massachusetts inhibited him from making the case against it. His wealth put distance between him and most voters. Still, Romney ran ahead of almost all of his party’s Senate candidates — and sometimes well ahead.

Ramesh Ponnuru in the Washington Post