Romney's Graceful Exit Opens Door to Future Run

In leaving the Republican race, Mitt Romney leaves time to heal and run again.

ByABC News
February 7, 2008, 3:56 PM

Feb. 7, 2008— -- The savviest political play of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign may have come in the way he ended it.

By getting out of the race Thursday -- on his own terms, and before another round of losses forced him to concede defeat -- the former Massachusetts governor showed grace and generosity, taking an important step toward healing wounds from the combative campaign he'd run.

And in casting his decision to suspend his campaign as a recommitment to Republican principles -- in front of a crowd of conservative activists in Washington -- he went a long way toward establishing himself as a champion of a conservative movement that may never fully embrace the man who looks increasingly like the likely 2008 GOP presidential nominee: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"This was a level of political acumen that if Romney had displayed throughout the campaign, he'd be the nominee right now," said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant. "He did the right thing, and he did it under the cover of the good of the party. He's branded himself as the conservative leader in the party right now."

The tone and tenor of his exit ensures Romney, 60, a bright future in the party, should he choose to re-enter politics.

He stands no realistic shot at being McCain's running mate -- the personal animosity between the two men runs too deep -- but he will be considered an immediate front-runner whenever the nomination next becomes open, in 2012 or 2016.

Romney's early exit also puts pressure on former GOP Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to follow suit.

Huckabee faces an even larger delegate gap than Romney, and Republican insiders predict he would not last long beyond next Tuesday's primaries in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

If Huckabee harbors hope of joining McCain on the ticket, a swift exit would seem to be the easiest path as the party clamors to unite itself for a tough race against either Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., or Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

As Romney himself alluded in his final speech as a candidate, he's following a path tread by none other than Ronald Reagan in falling short in his first run for the presidency.