Traditionally, losing presidential candidates stay out of party affairs, the practical reason being that their party has moved on and sees the loser as radioactive or having something contagious.
It may not be fair, but it is the way of the world.
Asking losing candidates for their advice is akin to asking George Custer about what really happened at Little Big Horn or asking the Buffalo Bills how they lost the Super Bowl four times. You don’t ask losers how to win. You ask winners about winning. It is the same in politics.
Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and Al Gore were among the Democrats ignored by their own party after their losses. On the Republican side, Tom Dewey, Gerald Ford, and John McCain continued to talk about their party, but mostly to excoriate it for going “too far to the right,” even as they themselves received the nomination of their supposedly out-of-touch party.
Some in the party listened to them, politely, but few took their advice. Losing candidates always see the world through their own prism, blaming others for their losses but rarely themselves.
Dewey in 1952 viciously attacked Robert Taft as a “two time loser,” even as he’d lost in 1944 to FDR and 1948 to Harry Truman, a race in which Dewey was so arrogant about winning he largely stopped campaigning for the entire fall.
The exceptions on the Republican side were Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater, simply because they cast such long shadows and because millions had made an investment in these two men long before they even sought the presidency.
Even as Ronald Reagan lost the nomination of the GOP in 1968 and 1976, he too was still listened to because he had a even greater mystical hold over much of the GOP and all of the conservative movement.
Now comes Mitt Romney, who has, without anyone asking him to do so, decided to convene his own “summit,” called in some quarters the “Romney Retreat.” An all too fitting name, unfortunately.
He is convening his summit in Utah presumably to help the party “broaden its message” later this week. The retreat will feature horseback riding.
Hey, as we used to say, “It’s a free country.” Romney is free to hold his own conference, charge $5,000 to attend, and invite establishment Republicans to sound off and nosh with other elite lobbyists and celebrity consultants.
From the perspective of conservatives and the Tea Party, who are not represented at the Romney Retreat, its meaningfulness looks a whole lot different. Therein lies the rub. The Romney campaign had no legacy upon which to build a political movement. It disappeared like a People magazine from the dentist’s waiting room.
Even after all the time, talk, “autopsies,” and navel gazing since Romney’s and the Republican establishment’s losses last November to a president presiding over 8% unemployment, this retreat, according to news sources, is about Romney’s “reemergence” into national politics. But this is the wrong perspective. Personality politics is what the left does, but it typically does not work for the right.
Romney and the GOP establishment tried to run a personality campaign against Obama; they tried to be cool and hip and it didn’t work. Nobody was going to out-cool Obama. The establishment is already talking up Jon Huntsman, who lost in 2012 to Romney.
Huntsman is a good man, but he would be well-advised to not listen to the celebrity consultants and instead run an issue-based campaign in 2016 and not the personality campaign he ran in 2012.
The GOP does not need the reemergence of Mitt Romney. If he has some ideas, they should be welcomed for debate.
But what it needs is the reemergence of optimistic intellectual conservatism that disdains the corruption of the Washington insiders and champions the individual over the state, rather than personality over principles.
The Republican Party should be the party of the “country” and let the Democrats be the party of the “court.”
After all, it is laws that matter, and not men.