Will the third time be a charm for Mitt Romney?

In a CNN poll run earlier this summer, 53% of Americans said that if the 2012 election were held today, they would vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. (Obama managed to pull in 44% of respondents.)

This poll, coupled with a few teasers from interviews with Romney himself, have refueled rumors that Romney is quietly preparing himself for another run at the Presidency.

Via Byron York of the Washington Examiner:

That belief is wrong. Romney is talking with advisers, consulting with his family, keeping a close eye on the emerging ’16 Republican field, and carefully weighing the pluses and minuses of another run. That doesn’t mean he will decide to do it, but it does mean that Mitt 2016 is a real possibility.

A significant number of Romney’s top financial supporters from 2012 have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney. They believe they are doing it with the tacit approval of Romney himself. “Spencer Zwick has never said specifically to everyone to keep your powder dry,” says the plugged-in supporter, referring to Romney’s former finance chairman who remains very close to Romney. “But the body language, the intonation, and the nuance are absolutely there.”

So far, Romney’s most dedicated supporters do not believe that his disavowals have been anywhere near definitive. They were particularly encouraged in late August, when Romney, in the middle of explaining to radio host Hugh Hewitt why he decided not to run in 2016, seemed — at Hewitt’s prodding — to open the door just a bit by adding that “circumstances can change.”

Love him or hate him, a third run for Romney is far from an electoral unicorn; it took Reagan three tries to make it to the White House, and he was responsible for ending the Cold War and overseeing the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

Not bad for a long shot.

Still, a Romney candidacy is problematic not only in the primary, but also in the general. Primary voters have yet to rally around a candidate, and Tea Party voters—the primary base our most conservative candidates will have to target if they want to gain momentum—have made it clear that missteps with regards to purity won’t be tolerated.

Those same voters’ knee-jerk reaction will almost certainly be to reject the “unity” candidate in favor of the dream of a moral majority, which will in turn motivate more moderate Republicans to rally around a Romney or a Christie. A wild card VP candidate could bring the two together, but it would take solid chatter about a Rubio or a Paul as the #2 before a solid base of diverse supporters would rally around Romney.

By the time the general rolls around, the Democrats will have deployed the beginnings of every old-rich-white-guy-out-to-get-your-food-stamps-and-also-your-uterus meme they can come up with. The name of their game will be “same old GOP,” and they’ll be running defense against GOP base-building messaging tactics that have already expanded both our audience and our data universe.

Could we run Romney against Hillary and maintain that expanded message without the help of a Rubio, or a Susana Martinez? I wouldn’t bet on it.

I respect Mitt Romney. I think he would have made a much more effective President than Barack Obama; but I’m not sold on the idea of supporting him for a third run.

That being said, can’t we make it through the midterms before we’re forced to choose a side? Republicans in all 50 states need to be focusing on winning in November. Then, we’ll talk about Romney.