After lying low since losing the presidential election last November, Mitt Romney is inching his way back into the public arena – and taking steps to rehabilitate his reputation within the Republican Party.
First came the news that Mr. Romney is scheduled to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this month. Now, he's granted his first interview (along with his wife, Ann) to "Fox News Sunday," which will air in full this weekend.
In an excerpt released by Fox News on Friday, Romney weighed in on the "sequester," the across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense discretionary spending that are about to take effect. "No one can think that that's been a success for the president," he told host Chris Wallace. "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. 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. The president has the opportunity to lead the nation and to bring Republicans and Democrats together. It's a job he's got to do, and it's a job only the president can do."
Those are all pretty standard Republican talking points. Still, Romney commenting on what the president should be doing in this crisis is somewhat intriguing, since it inevitably raises the question: "Would this whole mess be playing out any differently if Romney had won?"
Indeed, whether fortuitous or deliberate, Romney's decision to reemerge at a time when Washington finds itself embroiled in a series of never-ending budget dramas may prove helpful in paving the way for some sort of a comeback. As America's fiscal crisis appears increasingly intractable, some may look to the former Massachusetts governor and "fiscal turnaround artist" with something of a newfound appreciation.
Now, let's be clear: We are in no way suggesting he's going to run for office again. In the wake of last November's loss, Romney was pretty much persona non grata within his own party. He was the target of a huge outpouring of Republican frustration, as party leaders and pundits assailed his campaign's competence and his own out-of-touch comments – most notably, the "47 percent" remark and the one about "self-deportation." To many, Romney became synonymous with the GOP of the past.
And certainly, many within the party still hold little affection for the man they see as having blown a very winnable race. Conservative activist Richard Viguerie wrote on his website Friday that Romney should use his CPAC speech to "apologize to the assembled conservative activists, and Americans in general, for running a content-free campaign that inflicted four more years of Barack Obama and his radical secular liberal agenda on a country already being bled white by the wounds inflicted during Obama’s first term."
Still, there appears to be a bit of a détente going on, and a general expectation that Romney may have some sort of Act 2 in the works. There have been rumors about a possible Fox News gig – though, frankly, we have a little trouble envisioning that, since public speaking hasn't been Romney's strong point and when he's tried his hand at political analysis, it's been semi-disastrous (see the above-mentioned "47 percent" comment).
Other speculation has focused on Romney starting a foundation or a political group aimed at helping Republican candidates. Slate's David Weigel has even proposed that Romney become the new emergency manager for the city of Detroit.
Alberto Cardenas, head of CPAC, said in a release that Romney would be speaking on "the current state of affairs in America and the world and his perspective on the future of the conservative movement." While some may dismiss Romney's views as irrelevant, we'd wager that he'll get a more appreciative reception than he would have just a few months ago.