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Unless he finds a way to overcome his natural reserve, Mitt Romney would have a tough time winning the White House if he runs again, political pundit Karl Rove told a Utah audience Friday.

That's because 2016 will be the most up-close and personal presidential campaign in recent memory, driven by the real-time coverage of social media such as Twitter and Instagram.

"It means this campaign is going to be decided a lot more by the authentic response of candidates to events, to moments of adversity, to moments of triumph, to things as they happen," Rove told a crowd of Utah political junkies. "They're not going to have a chance to go in the back room and spend 24 hours figuring out what their response is going to be. ... You're going to see them exactly as they are because there's going to be very little buffer between us and their instantaneous response."

That could doom a candidate such as Romney, who is "reticent" and has a hard time being himself on a national stage, said Rove.

One member of the audience attending the Utah Legislative Policy Summit, sponsored by the Exoro Group, asked whether the two-time candidate isn't in a better position to reveal "the real Mitt Romney" to voters after the release of the documentary "Mitt," which focused on his human side and family relationships.

"It depends­ ­— is he going to show it to them?" Rove said. "He can't depend upon a Netflix documentary to do it; it's got to be him."

The former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, now a conservative commentator and columnist, said a telling moment emerged after Romney came under fire in London for his comments about the lack of adequate security there for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

When the already-staggered candidate was asked about wife Ann's horse Rafalca, entered in Olympic equestrian events, he deflected the questions.

If Romney had used the moment to relate the emotional story of how horse riding had helped his wife cope physically and emotionally with multiple sclerosis, "the American people would have said, 'god dang,' " Rove remarked. "Instead, what they saw was a guy who said, 'Hey, I'm rich and I don't want to talk about that funny horse.' "

Rove, an Olympus High graduate who attended two years at the University of Utah while working at a "hippie shop" in downtown Salt Lake City, had two pieces of advice for Romney if he is going to run a third time.

"He needs to share himself in a way that the American people get to see what a really decent, honorable person he is, and he also needs to defend himself against these attacks. If he did so, he might have been president, and if he does so this time, he might stand a better chance."

The Fox News commentator said there is no true front-runner on the Republican side in the 2016 presidential chase.

He threw out the names of Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, but said there really are 22 potential candidates.

He praised the field ­— "we've got a lot of good people" ­— compared to the Democratic side, where he said Hillary Clinton is almost certain to be the nominee with little serious competition.

But he called Clinton a "subpar candidate," adding, "she's going to have a tough race in 2016 if the Republicans don't blow themselves up."

Rove warned specifically against another government shutdown at the hands of what is now a GOP-controlled Senate and House or any kind of budget showdown that pushes the country to the edge of the "fiscal cliff."

"If the Republicans, by the end of the year, have left the impression with the American people that they're trying to get things done about jobs, energy and making America more competitive and getting government out of their lives, then they will have succeeded in creating a base for a governing sense that is going to be important to the success of the nominee."

The next White House occupant, whoever it is, will face huge challenges, Rove said, from the country's towering debt, to threats abroad.

"Why in the heck does anybody want to do this if they're sober enough to think about what they've got ahead of them?" he puzzled. "God bless them for thinking about running. I hope they have psychiatric counseling available and I hope the best one wins."