One rainy morning this month, the man who thought he would be president boarded a train near his beach house in San Diego. He stepped off in Burbank, Calif., and caught a ride to a sound stage, where his on-again, off-again political consigliere, Mike Murphy, was waiting to shoot a commercial on a set that bore more than a passing resemblance to the Oval Office.
Looking and sounding like a president out of central casting, he nailed his lines. The crew called him “one-take Romney,” and before he departed, they swarmed, extending arms around his shoulders and angling their iPhones for pictures.
With that, Mitt Romney’s long winter was over.
After retreating from public view following his crushing loss to President Obama in the 2012 election, Romney has returned to the political stage, emerging as one of the Republican Party’s most coveted stars, especially on the fundraising circuit, in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
He may not direct a high-powered political action committee or hold a formal position, but with the two living former Republican presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — shying away from campaign politics, Romney, 67, has begun to embrace the role of party elder, believing he can shape the national debate and help guide his fractured party to a governing majority.
Insisting he won’t seek the presidency again, Romney has endorsed at least 16 candidates this cycle, many of them establishment favorites who backed his campaigns. One friend said he wants to be the “anti-Jim DeMint,” a reference to the former South Carolina senator and current Heritage Foundation chairman who has been a conservative kingmaker in Republican primaries. Romney’s approach is to reward allies, boost rising stars and avoid intraparty conflict.