In spite of his insistence that he will not run, Mitt Romney is being courted this week by a leading conservative commentator to reconsider an jump into the volatile 2016 presidential race as an independent candidate.
William Kristol, the longtime editor of The Weekly Standard magazine and a leading voice on the right, met privately with the 2012 nominee on Thursday afternoon to discuss the possibility of launching an independent bid, potentially with Romney as its standard-bearer.
"He came pretty close to being elected president so I thought he may consider doing it, especially since he has been very forthright in explaining why Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should not be president of the United States," Kristol said in a phone interview Friday, where he confirmed that he and Romney had a "little meeting in Washington."
But knowing Romney's reluctance, Kristol told Romney that if he remains unwilling to run, many top conservatives would appreciate having the former Massachusetts governor's support for an independent candidate, should he and other right-leaning figures enlist a willing contender.
"Obviously, if there were to be an independent candidacy, Romney's support would be very important," Kristol said. "I wanted to get his wisdom on whether it was more or less doable than I thought."
"It was not like, 'You should do it.' I wouldn't presume he'd do it. But I'm hoping that he begins to think about it a little more," Kristol said. "His name is one of the names part of the discussion."
The closed-door huddle was held at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Washington, District of Columbia, which is located just blocks from the White House. It was requested by Kristol, according to a person close to Romney, who requested anonymity to discuss the session. Kristol said that the conversation was held over glasses of water.
Kristol has been working informally for weeks to seek out a prominent political or military figure who could be drafted into the general-election contest, such as retired Marine Corps general James N. Mattis, who recently declined such overtures.
Later Thursday, both Kristol and Romney attended an awards gala for American Friends of The Hebrew University, an area group that supports the Jerusalem-based school.
At the dinner, when asked in front of the attendees about possibly running as an independent this year, Romney said he was not interested.
"No, I'm certainly going to be hoping that we find someone who I have my confidence in who becomes nominee. I don't intend on supporting either of the major party candidates at this point," Romney said, according to the Washington Examiner.
But, Romney added, "I am dismayed at where we are now, I wish we had better choices, and I keep hoping that somehow things will get better, and I just don't see an easy answer from where we are."
A Romney spokesperson was not available for comment Friday evening.