Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

The Secret Life of Willard Mitty

Former Republican U.S. presidential nominee Mitt Romney pauses and smiles as he delivers a speech criticizing current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo
Jim Urquhart/REUTERS
Mitt Romney spoke out against Donald Trump on March 3 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Poor Mitt Romney. He’s got the world’s strangest affliction: Potomac Fever by Proxy.

Mitt wants everyone to know that people want him to run for president again.

There the no-longer-mighty Mittster was at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, letting it be known, in response to a question from CBS’s John Dickerson, that “there are some very generous people who ask me to run again,” and that though he doesn’t believe an independent candidate can win, “of course you think about things like that from time to time.”

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His family wanted him to wage another campaign, he added. Late in the nominating process, even. Indeed, some family members still think he should run. Why, just this week, one of his sons e-mailed him to say “you gotta get in, Dad, you gotta get in.”

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt that’s true. Mitt’s family has long been the ultimate fan club, always there to provide admiration and applause in matters great and small. That is, whether Mitt was, um, streamlining a newly acquired company’s workforce or just strapping the family pooch on the car roof for a long ride to Lake Huron.

In that way, the Romneys play Max von Mayerling to Mitt’s Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,’’ though unlike Max, the former film director and husband turned devoted servant, the Romneys don’t seem to realize the sun has set on Mitt’s political career.

But back to Potomac Fever by Proxy. Mitt has long heard voices urging him to do things that he secretly wants to do, but pretends he doesn’t, because he likes to style himself as an altruistic knight on a white charger, forever riding in to save the day. It was Mitt’s wife, Ann, who urged him to run for the US Senate in 1994, or so he said. And when he returned to Massachusetts to go for governor in 2002, he declared that the please-run pleas had been so loud he had heard them in Utah.

Of course, back then, Mitt was a political up-and-comer, a status he retained even after failing in his first bid for the presidency, in 2008. Then, in 2012, he lost a race that the economic indicators suggested he should win — and subsequently said he wouldn’t run again. Perhaps he thought that would leave voters begging for an encore. It didn’t. And so, once Jeb Bush got in, Romney decided he wanted to run after all — and started a frantic scramble to put a campaign together.

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Until Jeb Bush fixed his steely policy-wonk stare upon him, and Mitt blinked.

Then, as Trump took over the Republican Party, Mitt met with, but said no to, Bill Kristol, who hoped to recruit him for an independent conservative run. (Don’t worry, conservatives, Bill may yet persuade a proofreader at The Weekly Standard to take the plunge.)

But despite some “Secret Life of Willard Mitty” daydreaming about another quest, Mitt is doing the noble and selfless thing, no matter his family’s wishes. After all, he knows that another national campaign would be tough on the very loved ones urging him into the fray.

Ah, the self-sacrifice.

So what are the reverential Romneys to do? Well, even in exile on Elba, Napoleon retained the title of emperor. Perhaps they could start addressing Mitt as “Your Excellency” at family gatherings. Why, the grandkids could even take up bugle and drum and play “Hail to the Chief” when he enters the room.

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Meanwhile, if Salt Lake City ever decides to Sal-Exit . . . .

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.