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The Incredible Shrinking Mitt Romney

Less than two weeks after he lost the race for the Presidency, Mitt Romney’s impact on the Republican Party appears to have already disappeared:

There appears to be no Romney Republicanism to propagate. No Romney strategy to emulate. No Romney technology to ape. No generation shaped by his failed effort. And no Romney infrastructure to inherit, though he may still be asked to write and bundle quite a few checks. Romney’s bewildering post-election explanations of his defeat — Obama, he said, had bought off Americans — drew almost universal condemnation from leaders of his party, but the comments were more excuse than cause; party figures from Ari Fleischer to Bobby Jindal appeared to be waiting to kick Romney to the side of the road. The candidate did them a favor when he complained that Democrats had simply bought off young people and minority voters, a churlish line that erased any lingering Republican affinity for him as, when all else failed, a good-hearted guy.

Romney is being erased with record speed from his party’s books for three reasons. First, many Republicans backed him because they thought he had a good chance of winning; that appeal, obviously, is gone. Second, Romney had shallow roots, and few friends, in the national Republican Party. And those shallow roots have allowed Republicans to give him a new role: As a sort of bad partisan bank, freighted with all the generational positions and postures that they are looking to dump.

“Romney is now a toxic asset to unload,” the historian Jack Bohrer remarked Saturday. “The only interesting thing left to his story is how they dispose of him.”

The simplest reason for Romney’s quick fadeout is that his central promise was that he could win. He delivered immense fundraising prowess and ideological flexibility. He was never going to win partisan hearts like the two iconic, beloved losers of his father’s generation, Barry Goldwater and George McGovern.

“This is ever the sad fate of the ‘electability’ candidate who fails to get elected,”tweeted Red State editor Dan McLaughlin.

This isn’t entirely surprising, of course. Even when Romney was running and seemed to actually have a chance to win, there were people arguing that a President Romney would have, at best, a minimal impact on the future direction of the Republican Party because the future would belong to men like Paul Ryan and the stable of Republican Governors who now become contenders for the 2016 nomination. I found that argument slightly implausible only because every President, whether they serve one or two terms, has at least some impact on their party. We’ll never know what kind of President Mitt Romney would have been, of course, and it’s entirely possible that he would have had a significant impact on what the Republican Party would become in the future. At the same time, though, Romney was never running as a transforming candidate in the model of Reagan, Clinton, or Obama. He was running as “the manager,” the guy who would sit down at the desk on Day One, put on the green eyeshades, and get to the job of fixing the country and the economy. Perhaps this is one of the reasons his campaign failed, he wasn’t asking people to elect a President, he was asking them to elect a Chief Operating Officer. Perhaps that’s what we need, but the lack of vision in his campaign, among other things, is very likely one of the things that led to his defeat.

Romney lost, of course, but unlike several recent candidates he’s unlikely to be a major voice in his party going forward:

[O]ther electability candidates have not been subject to the sort of forced amnesia already washing over Romney. John Kerry and John McCain both faced, perhaps, even more bitter recriminations on questions of tactics and strategy from inside their parties —but they returned to important Senate roles, positions of respect in Washington and in their parties, and Kerry may join the next Cabinet.

Other losers can draw, similarly, on deep wells of loyalty at high levels of the party structure. Bob Dole and Walter Mondale got crushed by the last two-term incumbents to serve two terms. They faded fast from the American public imagination, too. But they also retook their seats on the party dais. Mondale, a former Vice President with deep ties to a key constituency, organized labor, became his party’s Senate nominee after Paul Wellstone died in 2002. Dole, a beloved war hero and longtime party soldier, received the Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton in 1997, and was appointed by George W. Bush to chair a commission a decade later.

Romney was a party outsider who bought his way in. The campaigns he came up working for — his father’s — operated in the essentially defunct moderate Republican tradition he abandoned, though a few of its stragglers staffed his headquarters in … Boston. Much of his inner circle consisted of people whose loyalty was to Romney, not to his party or even his platform; that was also true of his most enthusiastic volunteers.

Now Republicans don’t even seem to want to pile on Romney. Karl Rove and the SuperPAC infrastructure have absorbed as much disgust from donors and activists as Romney’s campaign, which found a message in the fall after a dismal summer. Recriminations, such as they are, have focused on the collapse of a glorified digital list called Orca. Republicans just want to forget Romney.

Romney doesn’t have a Senate seat to fall back upon like McCain and Kerry did, he doesn’t have longstanding ties to the party like Dole and Mondale did, and he doesn’t have the family name and reputation that George H.W. Bush did. All he’s really got are his two runs for the White House. After finishing up with the Salt Lake City Olympics, Romney turned to Massachusetts for his political future. It was an odd choice, really. Even though the state had elected a succession of moderate Republicans to the Governor’s Office in the years before he ran, none of them had any real national political career. William Weld was the only one who came close, but even he found that he was mostly persona non grata among conservatives because of his ties to Massachusetts. It makes one wonder how history might have been different had Romney chosen to run for Governor of Utah instead, a race that he likely would have won easily. In any event, it was obvious from the beginning that Romney’s run for Governor was nothing but a stepping stone to the higher political office that was denied to his father, and the fact that he chose not to run for re-election in 2006 pretty much confirmed that. For the past six years, Mitt Romney’s life has been dedicated to winning the White House. Now that that’s over, there’s really nothing political left in his life and no reason why Republicans should consider him to be a player in the party anymore.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “Less than two weeks after he lost the election, the GOP is acting as if Mitt Romney never existed.”

    Just like they’ve spent the last 4 years acting as if George W. Bush never existed.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 49 Thumb down 1

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I believe I predicted exactly this.

    No one loved Romney. With the possible exception of our erstwhile friend Drew, no one even liked Romney. He was a creep, and as much as people tried to deny it for political purposes, even his supporters basically knew he was an empty suit stuffed with cash.

    The one real service he did the GOP was that final donor conference call where he gave Republicans a pretext for exiling him immediately rather than having to pretend to care about him for another couple of weeks.

    If Romney wasn’t such a slimy creature you could almost feel sorry for him. He did everything the crazies wanted. He groveled and crawled and abased himself. He lied and flip-flopped and denied his own accomplishments. And in the end none of it mattered. He lost and the people whose asses he so assiduously kissed for six years threw him over without a second thought.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 51 Thumb down 1

  3. Nikki says:

    Couldn’t have happened to a slimier, pompous asshole.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Look, Mitt Romney ACTUALLY WAS the best candidate that the GOP had to offer, period.

    Does anyone out there really think that Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich would have out-performed Romney in this election? If, say, Rick Santorum had been the GOP nominee, the GOP would have been crushed in a McGovernesque electoral debacle.

    The GOP wants to forget Romney? After Mitt’s recent statements I think at least 47% of the American people want to forget about Romney.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 0

  5. Robert C says:

    Mitt who?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  6. Andre Kenji says:

    Utah is a bad place for anyone with national aspirations. It´s too small to give the Presidency to it´s governor, competitive Senate elections are rare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. JoshB says:

    I haven’t seen people run away from someone so quickly since my dressage horse farted in my car elevator.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 1

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JoshB:

    I haven’t seen people run away from someone so quickly since my dressage horse farted in my car elevator.

    OK, it’s over. Josh has won the internets for today.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

  9. @Moosebreath: This was my immediate thought as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. gVOR08 says:

    The same fate that befell the last Republican president. Down the memory hole. At least Democrats will remember them both.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know in which of the home states he lost is Mit Romney sitting and crying?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:

    As I understand it he’s in La Jolla, where he rides his car elevator up. . . and down. . . up and down. . .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  12. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, I cannot believe OTB has not addressed this Obama cover-up:

    The White House has removed a petition from its website calling for anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist to be punched “in the dick.”

    The White House created the “We the People” website in 2011 to allow Americans “create and sign petitions that call for action by the federal government on a range of issues facing our nation.” The White House has pledged to respond to most petitions that meet a threshold of 25,000 signatures in 30 days.
    ….

    “Peacefully grant the people of the United States of America to have Grover Norquist be brought forth in chains and put in a public pillory,” the petitioner wrote. “Once Grover Norquist has been secured, anyone who wishes will be allowed to punch him once, and only once, square in the dick.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 1

  13. PJ says:

    This time they didn’t just shake the Etch A Sketch, they put it through a wood chipper and buried what was left in a landfill.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  14. And @PJ: wins the thread.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  15. Kylopod says:

    “This is ever the sad fate of the ‘electability’ candidate who fails to get elected,”tweeted Red State editor Dan McLaughlin.

    The thing is, it didn’t work that way when it happened to the other side. In 2004, John Kerry was cast as the “electability” candidate who was never a favorite of fire-breathing partisans in his party (as, say, Howard Dean was). But after he lost, he didn’t fade into oblivion; he maintained a respectable position within the party, as evidenced by his recent Sec. of Defense candidacy. I can’t imagine anything comparable happening to Romney within the GOP. It seemed like Republicans didn’t just lack passion for him but actively disliked him. You could see it in how slow they were to coalesce around him during the drawn-out primary fight with Santorum, and how tepid their endorsements were when they finally appeared.

    Democrats didn’t love Kerry, but they didn’t despise him either. Far from it. With Romney, it’s different. I sense that Republicans–both rank-and-file and establishment–had a certain underlying contempt for him the whole time. It’s hard to believe considering how close he came to the presidency, but it seems to fit their behavior toward him.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  16. alanmt says:

    The bully looks up, scissors in hand, from the cowering gay guy he has pinned down to find he is staring into the eyes of the headmaster, all the guys cheering him on moments before, who he thought were his friends, gone with nothing more than the sound of distant running.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  17. M. Bouffant says:

    We’ll never know what kind of President Mitt Romney would have been, of course, and it’s entirely possible that he would have had a significant impact on what the Republican Party would become in the future.

    I’ve a more than sneaking suspicion that had he been elected, Romney’s impact on the GOP would have been to make it even smaller than its currently shrunken state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. An Interested Party says:

    “Peacefully grant the people of the United States of America to have Grover Norquist be brought forth in chains and put in a public pillory,” the petitioner wrote. “Once Grover Norquist has been secured, anyone who wishes will be allowed to punch him once, and only once, square in the dick.”

    It would be much more fitting to have a filled bathtub that Norquist could be drowned in, over and over and over again…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  19. @Steven L. Taylor: My first thought too.

    It took Republicans about, oh, six weeks to forget about George W. Bush.

    But when he was president he was “the movement and the cause”, in Bill Kristol’s phrase. As he left office, Pres. Bush had a 28 percent approval rating from independents– and a 75% rating from Republicans, according to Gallup. According to an ABC/WaPo poll, Bush left office with 34% approval from independents, and 68% from Republicans– but 82% from self-professed “conservative Republicans”.

    Over the course of his presidency, Bush rarely received less than 80% approval of “conservative Republicans”. And the stable of intellectuals at the Weekly Standard & National Review cranked out books about him like “Rebel in Chief”, “The Right Man”, and “Bush Country”. Now they all look like Spice Girls bios in the remainders bin.

    Republicans might not have any discernible rational policy preferences, but they sure do love a winner!

    Romney’s going to have to murder someone really famous for Republicans to remember that he exists after this.

    @al-Ameda is correct, too. Seth Masket explained why a little while back: “No one taking the stances Romney needed to take to win this year could have had the sort of résumé needed to be a typical major party nominee. … Almost no one taking the stances that Romney is taking now could have been elected as a senator or a governor from most states just a few years ago. … Rapid polarization makes flip-flopping a necessity.”

    The GOP had a choice of an artful flip-flopper like Romney; an artless flip-flopper like Perry or Santorum or Gingrich (or Paul Ryan); or a guns-blazing ignoramus like Bachmann or Cain or Trump.

    Republicans’ hatred for their nominee is a reflection of their party’s incorrigibility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  20. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    No one loved Romney. With the possible exception of our erstwhile friend Drew, no one even liked Romney. He was a creep, and as much as people tried to deny it for political purposes, even his supporters basically knew he was an empty suit stuffed with cash.

    To be honest until the 47% remark I considered him a socially awkward but well-meaning guy who simply ran on outdated ideas from his youth. Personally friendly and helpful but with hurtful politics.

    I wouldn’t have voted for him but considered him a guy I could live with in case he won.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  21. Brummagem Joe says:

    Obviously had he been elected Romney would have had a substantial impact for good or ill on the Republican party but absent a base in the party he was always doomed to disappear rapidly if he lost. Mind you Republicans are busy airbrushing out Dubya so it’s hardly surprising Romney is rapidly sliding down the memory chute.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. alanmt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I have it on good authority, by which I mean my own imagination, that the White House removed the petition as incomplete, for failing to incude as a requirement that after each perosn punches Grover Norquist, they are required to tell him “You know why!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. mattb says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:
    I totally agree.

    At during the Republican primary I said a number of times here that after Huntsman, Romney was my choice for the Republican Nominee — not because I thought he’d be easy to beat, but because I thought he’d have been a good-enough president. Then the primaries ended and the election began. And by the end I really was disappointed by him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0