POLITICS
01/30/2015 03:39 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2015

Mitt Romney Drops Out, But He Got Us Good

As it was foretold, here we are on a Friday, and Mitt Romney, baron of the end-of-the-week news dump, is once more tugging the rug beneath our feet:

Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he will not run for president in 2016.

Hugh Hewitt posted text of the remarks Romney was to make on a conference call with donors discussing his 2016 plans on Friday.

"After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee," the prepared remarks say.

Well how do you like that. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece called "Mitt Romney Will Have His Revenge," in which I noted how Romney's latest caprice -- to sidle up to the 2016 cycle and, for whatever reason, begin flirting with it -- had scrambled the media's brains. At the time, I thought: Well, for realsies, what's stopping him? Why NOT throw everyone and everything into disarray? The guy took lumps during his last run, especially during that stretch when he was steadily dispatching his primary foes. At that point, a lot of people who you'd think would be lining up behind the certain victor were instead clamoring -- for Jeb! for Christie! for anyone! -- to get into the race. So I figured it made sense for Mitt to re-emerge now, if for no other reason than to rattle the cages of so many who'd deign to rattle his own.

Well, it didn't go as I predicted. Still, Mitt Romney got us good.

Credit Jonathan Chait for getting in early and getting out quickly. Even as Romney was setting hearts aflutter with his feints, Chait was writing thusly: "Nothing could convince me that Romney will actually run for president, not even Romney taking the oath of office." In other words, he treated Romney the way most journalists treat Donald Trump, with his perennial bluster about his own presidential ambitions. "Nah, son, you playing" -- that was the correct call.

If Romney managed nothing else during this brief period of speculation, he can surely say he got the rest of us goofy-footed. History will remember, if history cares, that The Daily Beast ended up as the 1948 Chicago Tribune of this whole mini-melodrama, offering the world a hastily-written and -retracted Romneyverse version of "Dewey Beats Truman."

But all of that is ultimately just the cherry atop the weird Romney-boomlet sundae. The creamy stuff beneath tells a story of how we in the political media -- despite the initial instinct to write a new Romney candidacy off entirely -- nevertheless found ourselves ready, willing and able to suddenly get impossibly re-invested in Mitt Romney's persona.

Just think about how we all suddenly started talking about Mitt Romney's personal real-estate holdings again. Romney might sell his La Jolla house, screamed the headlines. You know, the one with the famous car elevator? Surely there is meaning in this! The Boston Globe did a deep dive into Romney's post-election home-procurement binge, noting that "Romney, whose last presidential bid was hampered by his image of excessive privilege and insensitivity, may recognize the trouble his real estate holdings could cause in another campaign."

Elsewhere came the deep-think. In The Washington Post, Philip Rucker stated with confidence that "if he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic." Because that's what authentic people do -- choose a brand and then strive to become That Brand, Incarnate.

All of us who read that statement probably should have recognized it as the moment when we reached Peak Obtuse. But instead, reporters in the field -- oh yeah, I guess I should point out that reporters were dispatched to follow Romney around during this time! -- took that "authenticity" cue and started probing Romney's every move, waiting for the moment when Romney would drop his guard and become real. And so we got tweets like this:

This was a fervent period of Romney-examination, Romscrutiny, during which no event, however mundane, could be completely ruled out as some sort of sneaky political-content delivery mechanism. It was kind of like "Lost" was back on the air, and Romney was the smoke monster, and we were all squinting at our screens, trying to divine the meaning of it all.

Anyway. The real story of Romney's brief do-si-do with 2016 is probably something simpler and less exciting: He earnestly considered running, floated a trial balloon, watched as said balloon was ruthlessly shot down by elites from his own party, and now he's bowing out gracefully. And yet: The frenzy was real, was silly, was -- in a way -- sort of glorious.

So, for one last time with Mitt Romney, on one last Friday, let us with all good cheer appreciate how every now and then someone comes along with the ability to gently screw with us. Quality trolling, Mitt Romney! Thanks for doing it at midday for a change, so we can all make happy hour.

And now, on to the next chapter!

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