Republicans Seek Way Forward By Talking To Guy Who Lost The Last Election

Some Republicans apparently think the key to their future lies in the past.


Mitt Romney is holding another one of his annual retreats for donors and supporters, and there are a lot of Republican heavyweights attending:

PARK CITY, Utah — The official topic of the conference, emblazoned on materials handed out to guests gathered here at a luxury Norwegian-inspired resort, was “The Future of American Leadership.”
But the unofficial theme was made clear not long into breakfast on Friday, when a guest asked Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky the question on everyone’s mind: Is Hillary beatable?

Leading lights of an anxious Republican establishment have journeyed to Utah’s Deer Valley this weekend for the third annual retreat organized by Mitt Romney, who has sought to transform the rump of his presidential campaign into a kingmaking force for his largely leaderless and divided party.
Part right-leaning “ideas festival” and part Romney political family reunion, the event featured early-morning yoga sessions, late-night cocktails, and a lecture on teamwork and fortitude by Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos quarterback.

With military tensions escalating abroad — and just days after the unceremonious unseating of Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader — a mix of old Republican blood (former Secretary of State George P. Shultz) and new (Mia Love, a Utah congressional candidate) gathered to diagnose the party’s difficulties.

“This is the place where I believe the future of the party is really going to come out of,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York hedge fund manager and former Romney fund-raising bundler. “This is the Republican Party’s Bell Labs. This is our R & D division.”


In the donors’ wake came many of the party’s potential nominees for 2016, appearing to relish the opportunity to mingle with leading fund-raisers.

There was Mr. Paul, who met privately with 20 or so donors Friday night, preaching the importance of broadening the party’s tent. (“Interesting because he’s different,” as one guest put it, although Mr. Paul’s foreign policy views leave the party’s more hawkish donors uneasy.) There was Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Mr. Romney’s erstwhile running mate — some say his heir — leading an early-morning skeet-shooting outing.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, his political future now resting partly in the hands of a federal prosecutor, huddled with a handful of top Romney bundlers late Friday evening, and was scheduled to speak on Saturday morning.

“I think there is a thing called a Romney Republican,” said Spencer J. Zwick, who ran Mr. Romney’s fund-raising efforts in 2012 and whose private equity firm sponsored the conference. (All his firm’s investors were invited to attend.) “We are almost two years after the election — how many other people could bring all these people together?”

That was in many ways the point: With a year and half to go before the Republican primaries begin, the party has no unifying candidate or leader. Battles between mainstream Republicans and more conservative activists, which seemed to be on the wane, erupted anew this week with the defeat of Mr. Cantor, who is popular with big donors and who had tried to straddle the fault line between the Tea Party and business wings.

The remnants of Mr. Romney’s campaign apparatus are a trove of money and power for any contender capable of seizing them. During the 2012 race, a “super PAC” run by former Romney aides, the Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign itself spent a combined billion dollars, much of it raised from Wall Street, the real estate world, and oil and gas companies.

And, perhaps inevitably, there’s even talk about Romney himself running again:

“Somebody here needs to start a ‘Draft-Mitt’ movement,” Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host, told guests on Thursday, according to someone who was there. Another said Mr. Scarborough compared Mr. Romney to Winston Churchill, who lost his seat in Parliament before returning to power at the outbreak of World War II, when his warnings about Nazi appeasement proved prescient.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Christie did not run, Mr. Scarborough added, “This is the only person who can fill the stage.”

The next day, Mr. Romney — cheerful and tieless — talked down the idea of a third presidential bid.

“I think people make a lot of compliments to make us all feel good, and it’s very nice and heartening to have people say such generous things. But I am not running, and they know it,” Mr. Romney told reporters, adding that politics was a little like dating: “The unavailable is always the most attractive, right?”

Obviously, the people that are gathering in Utah this week isn’t part of the Tea Party crowd, these are by and large the business and “establishment” Republican who backed Romney in 2008 and 2012, and who would appear most likely to back either Jeb Bush and Chris Christie in 2016. As we’ve seen before, though, the doubts about whether or not Bush will actually run and the questions about whether Christie would play well on a national stage have led some to suggest that Romney should make another try for the White House. He’s denied any interest in doing so, and it seems incredibly unlikely, but the people who backed him the last two times, and who are gathered in Utah this weekend, are going to be looking for someone to back in 2016 if Bush and Christie fizzle out.

Even if Romney never runs again, though, the fact that he’s jumped back into politics like this is interesting. After he lost in 2012, his public comments made it sound as though he wasn’t very interested in being politically active in the future. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the election, just weeks after his loss, the logical conclusion seemed to be that Romney would end up having had almost no impact on the direction of his party. That may well eventually be the case, but it does appear that Romney has taken on the role of Republican elder statesman, no doubt in some part due to the urging of friends, donors, and supporters who had backed his two previous campaigns and the concerns that many mainstream Republicans about a lack of alternative to the Tea Party and other hard-right forces in the GOP. While I question the wisdom of rallying around a guy who has lost in both of his entries onto the national political stage, it does seem like Mitt Romney will be playing some kind of role in politics for a longer period than anyone anticipated.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. beth says:

    it does seem like Mitt Romney will be playing some kind of rule in politics for a longer period than anyone anticipated.

    Because he’s stinking rich and he can introduce Paul, Christie and Ryan to other stinking rich donors. The guy lost his election – if he didn’t have money, you’d never hear from him again. He’s not peddling any new ideas.

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Unless you think Romney deliberately threw the election, or wants to sabotage the 2016 GOP race, he is a very good source for how things went wrong.

    Thomas Edison, on his many attempts to build a practical light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

  3. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: if the Republicans want to run 10.000 candidates for POTUS and fail every time, that’s fine with me…

  4. Tillman says:

    Romney should go the Bill Gates route and start sponsoring grassroots moderate Republicans to take their party back from crazy people.

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Eh, I’m not positive on that. Part of Romney’s problem was he wouldn’t fire anyone for screwing up. This increased their loyalty, allegedly, but it also meant mistakes were never punished.

    Can’t find the article where I read that, damn it. You google “Romney campaign doesn’t fire people” and you get crap about his line about liking to fire people.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    Perhaps the Republicans have few options but but Romney. As former Bush speech writer David Frum points out they have no leadership and the party is being choreographed by talk radio and FOX news.

  6. stonetools says:

    As a Democrat, I frankly hope the Republicans continue to take Romney’s advice. We need to win big the next few elections…

  7. humanoid.panda says:

    The man is a walking donor network. Until such time he makes an endorsement, presidential hopefuls will be buzzing around his ‘idea lab’ like flies over honey. Once the presidential nomination is done, he would be lucky to get an early afternoon speaking slot at the convention.

  8. anjin-san says:

    he is a very good source for how things went wrong.

    Hmm. The man Republicans touted as a brillant executive/manager, who turned out to be a terrible executive/manager, building a lousy team around himself, and investing a lot of money in vaporware that he thought was a secret weapon that would win the election.

    In the mean time, Obama, who, according to the right is a clueless boob, actually had the kick ass campaign organization and cutting edge IT that helped win the election. Maybe there is something to this community organization stuff after all.

    Romney proceeds to walk into a buzz saw on election day, certain of victory because, well, everyone in the right wing bubble said to ignore the polls, Obama is toast. Romney managed to completely miss the painful, highly public lesson Obama taught both Hillary Clinton and John McCain in 2008.

    Romeny did not even have a concession speech handy, just in case. But he did have a dandy transition website ready to go, with a heavy focus on himself, starring as “the great man.”

    Someone who presided over a failure of this magnitude is almost certainly not capable of competent failure analysis. But then who on the right is? Eric Cantor’s pollster? George Rove, he of the epic election night meltdown? This is what happens when you live in a self-reinforcing feedback loop, eating your own BS for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    If not Romney, who?
    Bush…who was appointed?
    Ingraham got Cantor out and Brat in.
    Should she be running the party?
    Maybe Palin?
    Please? Pretty please?

  10. anjin-san says:

    George Rove

    Sorry, Karl Rove. I should probably also include never-been-right-about-anything-ever-in-his-entire-frigging-life Bill Kristol.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    Seems to me they ought to be talking to Eric Cantor.

  12. Another Mike says:

    We had an election in 2012, Obama v. Romney, Obama won, but many are having buyers remorse. It must be plain to many people that they made a very bad choice. Maybe they want to replay that election. Clinton v. Romney. She is not Obama, but close enough. Her Master’s thesis was on Alinsky, what more can we ask for. If the people go with Alinsky again — remember Obama taught Alinsky, then we are left with the definition on insanity.

    Or maybe the insanity would be running Romney again. Or maybe we are dealing with insanity all the way around, an insane party and an insane electorate.

    Sarah Palin, where are you?

  13. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Another Mike: And your answer to the insanity is…

    Sarah Palin?? What?

  14. ernieyeball says:

    Quick Quiz
    Match the Quote to the Correct Political Sage.

    A. “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.”
    B. “Always remember the first rule of power tactics; power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
    C. “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

    1. Chairman Mao 2. Ronald Reagan 3.Saul Alinsky

  15. ernieyeball says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Sara Palin?

    Won’t have to impeach her. She will quit 1/2 way through her first term.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    @Another Mike:..remember Obama taught Alinsky,..

    Alinsky died in 1971 when Obama was 10 years old.
    I think we need to see your Birth Certificate Mike.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Sarah Palin, where are you?

    Anywhere there is a rube waiting to be rolled…

  18. Grewgills says:

    Most disturbing about the Reagan quote is that it was in reference to American demonstrators.

  19. ernieyeball says:

    @Grewgills: Most disturbing about the Reagan quote is that it was in reference to American demonstrators.

    Yeah, Ronnie was a real joker wasn’t he. Like when Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
    The abduction occurred in February 1974. One of the SLA’s demands was a free food program. Patty’s father, Randolph Hearst, publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, arranged for such a project in Oakland. Governor Ronald Reagan responded to the long line of people waiting for free food: “I hope they all get botulism.”

  20. PAUL HOOSON says:

    They say that a working definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over and to expect different results. Given this tru-ism, Mitt Romney failed twice in his presidential bids for a number of reasons. The chief one being that Romney simply was not half the successful business manager that he claimed to be. The night of his failed 2012 bid, angry donors complained that his campaign was managed like some college freshman class project. Mitt Romney proved that he was not good at delegating responsibility to lower level managers who could effectively organize his volunteers. Further, this campaign had serious election day software issues on a par with the Obamacare computer failures, where get out the vote efforts were thwarted in a number of key states due to these computer software failures. Why this software wasn’t tested before election day is just one sign of an inept campaign with misplaced priorities.

    Further problems were the trust that Romney placed on biased internal polling, sometimes cutting back on campaign appearances in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania or Virginia, and sometimes treating this election as though it was a 50 state popular vote contest rather than a 50 state electoral vote contest with a relatively small number of states in play that were critical to putting together an electoral vote majority. Even John Kerry’s campaign recognized that winning Ohio despite running slightly behind Bush in the popular vote was key to winning in the electoral college.

    Romney’s campaign appearances were often mismanaged affairs where he seemed disgeniune, and as though he falsely attempting to seem more conservative than he really was to many voters, rather than the moderate centrist politician that once ruled a liberal state like Massachusetts as governor. Other campaign appearances were characterized with clumsy missteps like his appearance on Hispanic television where the candidate’s tanned appearance was seen as a pandering and absurd attempt at “brownface” to make himself seem more appealing to voters. Equally, Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan often seemed very disgenuine and often dishonest to voters. In the end, Romney managed to lose both his home state of Michigan as well as Massachusetts where he had been governor by margins proving he had no real coattails or sentimental pull among many voters. Equally Ryan failed to win his home state of Wisconsin as well, proving that neither candidate was able to win an election among voters who knew them best.

    By comparison, Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney was a very successful businessman as well as governor of Michigan, who ruled successfully as a Republican moderate winning many votes in this blue collar worker state. Representative Gerald Ford was able to win his home state of Michigan as well in 1976, proving that a trusted Republican can win this union strong state with many factory workers. Romney and Ryan did a poor job inspiring trust among many voters and this came back to haunt them when they lost Michigan, Massachusetts and Wisconsin.

    George Romney had taken over the helm of American Motors by 1955 after the 1954 merger engineered by George Mason had become the largest corporate merger in the world at that time when Hudson and Nash merged, but decided to keep financially troubled Packard and Studebaker from joining this merger, making this merger between the strongest companies, with the best hopes of long term survival. Romney steered the company away from the large cars that Hudson built towards an economy car based company that was profitable up until the time that he left AMC to run for governor of Michigan. By comparison, Mitt Romney may have sat on some corporate boards of some companies that made money, but he wasn’t the top CEO on these boards. He was an unproven corporate leader and actual manager unlike his father.

    Looking back, Romney was unimpressive to many voters, appearing disgeniune and with poor management skills such as a failure to delegate responsibility well. While President Obama may have have lost votes from his stronger 2008 election win, he still managed to win by having a more skillful campaign effort that made him appear to be the better candidate in the eyes of most voters, winning a decisive win in the electoral college and running a few points stronger than Romney in the popular vote.

    Can this twice failed presidential candidate with a serious lack of management skills be elected with a third try? Only if voters want a candidate who cannot well manage a campaign, and possibly not be an able manager of the presidency as well. – I doubt this is what voters will want. – My money is on a candidate that is an able manager next time around, also running the best campaign as well.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @PAUL HOOSON: Paul? I’m afraid your analysis falls a little short by comparing the GOP of today with the pre-Reagan GOP. Sure GR was the Gov in the 50’s but the GOP was not virulently anti union then. Same with Ford. Different party, different times.

  22. Ron Beasley says:

    @PAUL HOOSON: For the most part I agree with you on Mitt’s lack of management skills. He’s no George Romney. But I also agree @OzarkHillbilly: analysis – today’s Republican is not the Republican party of George Romney.

  23. PAUL HOOSON says:

    @Ron Beasley: That’s deeply sad that such an ideological shift has seemed to take place in some segments of the GOP. In 1963, George Romney marched in an NAACP sponsored protest in support of fair housing laws. And as HUD Secretary under President Nixon he helped to provide many poor and ethnic Americans a decent and affordable place to live. George Romney was a religious man who was a real progressive in many areas and a great man with a strong commitment to fairness and equality of all men, regardless of skin color. – Sadly, his son isn’t even a chip off the same block. The father was a great man, the son just plain disappointing on so many levels. George Romney would have been an excellent president if he would have won the 1968 Republican primaries. He would have continued the Johnson-era civil rights efforts and even added some of his own, while helping to inspire a strong business environment. A good mix for this country.

  24. Ron Beasley says:

    @PAUL HOOSON: This shift is the result of Lee Atwater’s “southern strategy” for which he said he regretted and apologized for on his death bed. But the damage was done and as the demographics in the US shift the old white men are becoming even more paranoid. BTW I’m an old white man, just not that kind of old white man.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @PAUL HOOSON: On George Romney you are absolutely correct. And it is sad that he would have no place in today’s GOP.

  26. george says:

    @Another Mike:

    If the people go with Alinsky again

    Oddly enough, the only people who speak about Alinsky are conservatives. Which makes me think they’re his followers – if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, the chances are it is a duck.

  27. Anonomouse says:

    @ernieyeball: He really was all about hope. It was morning in America, baby!

  28. ernieyeball says:

    @Anonomouse:.. He really was all about hope.

    Yeah, Like his apologists hope no one ever notices that:

    “By the end of his term, 138 Reagan administration officials had been convicted, had been indicted, or had been the subject of official investigations for official misconduct and/or criminal violations. In terms of number of officials involved, the record of his administration was the worst ever.”

  29. C. Clavin says:

    @Another Mike:

    many are having buyers remorse


  30. anjin-san says:


    I don’t think that anyone here will disagree that there was much to admire about George Romney. I’ve seen a few videos of interviews with Mrs. Romney were she came across very well. Not sure what happened to Mitt.

  31. ernieyeball says:

    I’m sure everyone scored 100% but just in case:

    Crib Sheet: A-2…B-3…C-1

    @ernieyeball: Quick Quiz
    Match the Quote to the Correct Political Sage.

    A. “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.”
    B. “Always remember the first rule of power tactics; power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
    C. “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

    1. Chairman Mao 2. Ronald Reagan 3.Saul Alinsky

  32. Barry says:

    @PAUL HOOSON: “Further, this campaign had serious election day software issues on a par with the Obamacare computer failures, where get out the vote efforts were thwarted in a number of key states due to these computer software failures. Why this software wasn’t tested before election day is just one sign of an inept campaign with misplaced priorities. ”

    On this particular point you’re wrong. The Romney site was a triviality. The Obamacare site had a far more complex job to do, including tying into a large number of federal and state systems, on a real-time basis.

  33. Barry says:

    @PAUL HOOSON: “That’s deeply sad that such an ideological shift has seemed to take place in some segments of the GOP. In 1963, George Romney marched in an NAACP sponsored protest in support of fair housing laws. ”

    But a fact of history – the USA had a massive national shift of the more-racist faction from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. It was open and it was public.