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Third time won't be the charm for Romney

The "will he or won't he" speculation came to an abrupt and unexpected end this morning.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Republican National Committee winter meetings in San Diego, Calif. on Jan. 16, 2015.   (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Republican National Committee winter meetings in San Diego, Calif. on Jan. 16, 2015.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) hasn't been shy about his intentions. The two-time failed presidential candidate has spent several weeks acting like a 2016 aspirant, talking like a 2016 aspirant, and telling supporters he'll soon become a 2016 aspirant. Sources close to Romney told reporters it was a matter of "when," not "if."
And yet, many of us kept asking ourselves the same question: "Romney's not actually going to do this again, is he?" Those lingering doubts, we learned this morning, were correct.

Romney has spoken to supporters on a conference call, reading a statement explaining his decision. "It is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee," he said. "I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case."

Today's announcement brings the Republican full circle. Remember, Romney swore up and down he would not join the 2016 field, saying as recently as September, "[M]y time has come and gone. I had that opportunity. I ran, I didn't win. Now it's time for someone else to pick up the baton."
At one point last year, asked about a third attempt, Romney's exact words were, "Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no. People are always gracious and say, 'Oh, you should run again.' I'm not running again."
More recently, he apparently changed his mind, moving closer to the race, only to change it once more, closing the door this morning.
Let's unpack this morning's big news with a little Q&A.
How can we be sure Romney won't reverse course again and jump back in?
Frankly, we can't. Mitt Romney is like a wild man who can't be contained. He's out of the race; he's in the race; he's out again; he's in again. He's a free spirit who apparently likes to keep us on our toes.
No, seriously, how can we be sure Romney won't reverse course again and jump back in?
Because this morning's announcement, according to Romney himself, is intended to be his final words on the subject. He's out. Full stop.
Why make an announcement like this now?
Because, oddly enough, Romney was effectively out of time. It may seem incredibly early, but for political professionals, this is the stage at which a wide variety of Republican insiders -- staffers, donors, activists, firms, etc. -- commit to one candidate. Many of Romney's former backers needed to know, right away, what his plan was so they could act accordingly.
With Romney out, who's the Republican frontrunner?
There isn't one. In fact, the GOP field is arguably the most wide open it's been in a generation. Get ready for an interesting free-for-all nominating contest.
Who benefits as a result of Romney's withdrawal from consideration?
Candidates who come from the same establishment wing of the GOP stand to gain the most. Folks like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were going to compete with Romney, not only for votes, but for support from the same kinds of donors and backers.
If he had run, would Romney have won?
We'll never know, of course, but I rather doubt it. Polls showed him with weak support for a former nominee with 100% name recognition, and for much of the American mainstream, Romney just wasn't well liked.
What does Romney do now?
He'll probably continue to complain about President Obama, more or less full time, which means Romney's efforts this year will look an awful lot like his efforts from recent years. The funny part, however, will be watching Republican presidential hopefuls who've been quietly trashing Romney (when they saw him as a rival) suddenly sing Romney's praises (now that they'll seek his support).