Rebuilding your political life after a failed presidential bid is tough under any circumstances – especially so if you don’t have, say, a seat in the US Senate or the governor’s office to go back to, as John McCain, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis did.
Mitt Romney is finding this out.
The Republican presidential standard-bearer last year not only has to deal with personal political failure after twice shooting for the White House. He’s also the symbol of the GOP’s major problem these days: the failure to connect with an electorate that is becoming younger and more diverse than its membership – certainly more moderate than the party’s leadership.
Mr. Romney may have had a good personal story to tell – an attractive family, a life of quiet good works tied to his Mormon faith – but it came too late in the presidential campaign. Plus, there was no way he could dispel his image as a really, really rich white guy who had trouble relating to working families and less-fortunate Americans – the “47 percent” he derided when talking to campaign donors.
For the record, at least, few Republicans or conservative leaders speak unkindly of Romney these days.
“Certainly he gave a lot for the cause," Tim Phillips, president of the national conservative group Americans for Prosperity, told The Associated Press. "But most of the movement is wanting to look forward. They want to look forward to the next generation of leaders."
"We need as many voices for conservative reform and leadership as possible," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, among those Republicans thought to be weighing a 2016 presidential bid. "I welcome Governor Romney and anybody else who will help to make that message and help to take that fight."
He and his wife, Ann Romney, sat down for an interview in the friendly territory of Fox News. Later this month, he’ll give his first post-campaign speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
It’s not exactly a “Romney Revival Tour,” as the Daily Beast’s John Avlon tongue-in-cheeks it. But it’s a start.
Speaking to Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Romney talked of his loss.
“It kills me not to be there, not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done,” Romney said. "The hardest thing about losing is watching this critical moment, this golden moment slip away…. It’s hard.”
Romney calls his “47 percent” comment “very unfortunate.”
“It's not what I meant. I didn't express myself as I wished I would have,” he told Fox News. “You know, when you speak in private, you don't spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted and distorted…. There's no question that hurt and did real damage to my campaign.”
It didn’t take much twisting or distorting to see the potential damage in the full comment, made at a private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., last May: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.… These are people who pay no income tax … and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney also acknowledges what he describes as a lack of effectiveness in his message to Hispanic and African-American voters. “That was a real mistake,” he told Fox.
Romney dinged President Obama for how the man who beat him in last November’s election has handled the whole "sequester" fiasco.
“No one can think that's been a success for the president,” he said. “He didn't think the sequester would happen. It is happening.”
"But to date, what we've seen is the president out campaigning to the American people, doing rallies around the country, flying around the country, and berating Republicans,” he continued. “And blaming and pointing. Now what does that do? That causes the Republicans to retrench and then put up a wall and fight back. It's a very natural human emotion."
Today, Romney has a realistic view of his place in American politics, a view tinged with longing.
"I recognize that I lost, so I'm not going to be the leader of the Republican Party. Other people will take that mantle,” he said. “But I want to have influence on getting our party into a position where we can be successful in solving the problems the country has…. I recognize that as the guy who lost the election, I'm not in a position to tell everybody else how to win, all right? They're not going to listen, and I don't have the credibility to do that anyway. But I still care.”