There May Be a New GOP Front-Runner, and It’s Not Who You’d Expect

Donald Trump has been leading the GOP presidential pack for months and, based on the latest local polling, it’s beginning to look like that may continue all the way into the primaries. However, there’s a new top candidate popping up in New Hampshire. The only problem is, he isn’t even on the ballot.

Yes, it’s time for another round of “save us, Romney,” as potential New Hampshire voters rally around failed 2012 GOP candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to nab the party’s endorsement. While Romney has repeatedly said he has no desire to campaign again, the swirl of support on the ground is unabated, and may be the only thing that stops Trump from cake-walking to a nomination.

“For Republicans fearful of Donald Trump becoming their party’s presidential nominee, a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters offers a three-word solution: Willard Mitt Romney,” reports the Boston Globe. “If the former Massachusetts governor were added to the mix of the 14 other Republican candidates running in the Feb. 9 first-in-the-nation presidential primary, New Hampshire voters would, if the election were held now, give him a 2-to-1 win over Trump, the leader of the field.”

Of course there’s a major problem: it’s far too late for Romney to get on the ballot, since the deadline for declaring was November 27th. But it isn’t too late for him to get on the ballot of later contests, and with high polling news coming in, that has to be a temptation both for the former governor and for a GOP establishment terrified by a Trump candidacy. He could even try to pick up a win in New Hampshire, too, just by running as a write in.

While it may not be technically too late for a late entry into the primary, logistically launching a campaign would be a nightmare, regardless of how popular a candidate may be on paper. Other contenders have been grabbing staff, working supporters, and raising massive amounts of campaign cash for months and longer, leaving little more than political dregs left for a newly minted candidate.

In fact, it may have been those early efforts that kept Romney on the bench in the first place. According to a new book about the rough and tumble GOP primary, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s early campaign work may have played an important role in convincing Romney not to run for a third time.

“Romney responded to Bush getting in the race by meeting privately with a group of former donors in New York City on Jan. 9, telling them he, too, was considering a run for president – news that quickly became public,” reports KSL.com. “Bush was ready, [Buzzfeed reporter McKay] Coppins wrote, with a strategy his campaign labeled “shock and awe” after the show of overwhelming force that Bush’s brother, then-President George W. Bush, deployed at the outset of the Iraq War. ‘The goal was to crush Romney’s spirit and scare off any other potential challengers who were on the fence,’ the chapter said, by rounding up big donors and key political operatives as well as pushing negative stories about Romney’s efforts.”

Ironically, just like the Iraq War, Bush’s campaign has been a disaster, too. Now struggling to find funding, barely registering on the polls and unable to find a constituency that backs him, Bush’s current presidential run looks unlikely to make it far past New Hampshire’s primary, either.

Romney, meanwhile, has been trying to shift his own base of support to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a younger, more charismatic GOP establishment candidate. The gambit has been only partially successful. While Rubio has been gaining in the polls, he hasn’t managed yet to break into the top tier of candidates, regardless of how much backing he has received from Romney and Romney’s allies.

Until the GOP winnows down their slate, it’s hard to see anyone supplanting Trump. There are too many establishment candidates dividing the “not-Trump” pool of voters. A Romney vote is an easier one for the GOP, because he is a candidate who is known, unlike Rubio, Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, who have yet to prove themselves on a national scale. But a Romney candidacy simply isn’t going to happen, no matter how many polls put him in the lead.