It is important to keep in mind that Romney had almost no chance of being the nominee in 2016. So in a way his decision to not run doesn’t change anything. If he had run it would have been on the hope that other candidates would implode and that he could pick off their support when they did. So the front runners remain pretty much who they were even with Romney out. But not having him around does help some candidates more than others.
Romney could have played a spoiler role by taking funding and some number of votes from other establishment-oriented candidates.
Therefore Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and others are breathing a sigh of relief that their segment of the candidate pool just got that much less crowded. It’s a big help to Jeb in particular both in the polling because the voters who would have gone for Romney are overwhelmingly the type of voters Jeb can capture and there are a lot of donors who were torn between Jeb and Romney. Bush will get those dollars now and that will definitely help him.
What Romney’s decision also shows is how fixated the establishment wing of the Republican party is on keeping control. I have no doubt that there was a lot of pressure coming at him from K Street and Wall Street to not muddy the waters and to Jeb have a clear shot. And if for some reason Jeb doesn’t run or fizzles, they still have guys like Chris Christie or a Scott Walker to fall back on.
As was clear in Iowa last weekend, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm in the grassroots for the Establishment candidates (the crowd roared it’s approval when Donald Trump declared “No to Mitt and No more Bushes!”)
Voters are looking for a new fresh face. Contrast the Romney/Bush reaction by the grassroots to the overwhelming response Senator Ted Cruz received in Iowa, which mirrored the same reception he received in SC the week before. Both events, over 1200 people, sold-out, with long waiting lists. This is the type of reaction Barack Obama saw from the Democrat grassroots in 2008 and the type of reaction Republicans need in a nominee.