Republicans don't want Mitt Romney to go away mad but they do, it seems, want him to go away.
That sentiment was in full bloom following Romney's first post-election comments -- made on a phone call with donors earlier this week. On the call, Romney attributed his loss to the "gifts" President Obama's campaign doled out to young people and minorities. For many, the comments had an eerie echo of the secretly taped "47 percent" remarks Romney made at a May fundraiser.
"There is no Romney wing in the party that he needs to address," said Ed Rogers, a longtime Republican strategist. "He never developed an emotional foothold within the GOP so he can exit the stage anytime and no one will mourn."
Added Chris LaCivita, a senior party operative: "The comment just reinforced a perception -- fairly or not – that Romney, and by default, the GOP are the party of the 'exclusives'. It's time for us to move on and focus on the future leaders within the GOP."
Speaking of those future leaders, several of the candidates talked about as 2016 presidential possibilities quickly condemned Romney's comments as well.
"We have got to stop dividing American voters," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "I absolutely reject that notion, that description ... We’re fighting for 100 percent of the vote." Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker added that the Republican party isn't "just for people who are currently not dependent on the government."
The strong intraparty reaction -- just nine days after Romney loss the presidential race -- speaks to the desire within the professional political ranks of the Republican party to move on as quickly as possible from an election that badly exposed their weaknesses.
The prevailing opinion among that group is that there is much work to be done and that Romney will have a hand in almost none of it. Put more simply: Thanks for playing. Now go away.
Here's how conservative columnist Matt Lewis put it in a tweet:
I'd like to see Romney and his team go out gracefully. (Yes, that requires actually... going away.)
— Matt K. Lewis (@mattklewis) November 15, 2012
Romney, of course, likely doesn't share that opinion -- still reeling from an election that he quite clearly expected to win but, well, didn't. (And didn't even really come close to winning.)
What Romney seems most interested in doing at this point is rehashing why he didn't win -- with an emphasis (at least in his comments to donors) on what was wrong with voters, not what was wrong with his campaign.
That MO, while understandable for someone who has spent the last six-plus years of his life running for president, is tremendously problematic for a party that needs to get away from the stereotype that it is of, by and for white, affluent men even at a time of growing diversity in the country and the electorate.
"The recent comments about what happened in the election are 100 percent wrong," said Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "The 47 percent comments represent both a fundamental misunderstanding of the country, they offer a constricted vision of the Republican party and the potency of a big tent conservative message. "
Former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis was even more blunt: "It shows a huge misreading of the electoral landscape. A rather elitist misread. Where does he think his votes came from in rural America?"
Also worth noting: The White House was quick to jump on Romney's remarks. "That view of the American people of the electorate and of the election is at odds with the truth of what happened last week," Carney said Thursday morning.
Here's the two-pronged problem for Republicans at the moment: 1) Romney has no motivation to toe the party line now, and refrain from making such comments, given that he will never again be a candidate, and 2) even if Romney quietly steps aside now, the party is left without any sort of elder statesman to help broker future policy and political fights.
To the latter point: While Democrats have Bill Clinton as their triager-in-chief, using his gravitas to help extend and articulate the Democratic brand, George W. Bush seems perfectly content to spend the rest of his days outside of the public spotlight in Texas. And, while John McCain remains an active force in the Senate, he was never someone that Republicans truly saw as one of their own. Now, in Republicans' best case scenario, Romney is headed to that same path of obscurity.