Gone are the minute-by-minute schedules and the swarm of Secret Service agents. There’s no aide to make his peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches. Romney hangs around the house, sometimes alone, pecking away at his iPad and e-mailing his CEO buddies who have been swooping in and out of La Jolla to visit. He wrote to one who’s having a liver transplant soon: “I’ll change your bedpan, take you back and forth to treatment.”
It’s not what Romney imagined he would be doing as the new year approaches.
Four weeks after losing a presidential election he was convinced he would win, Romney’s rapid retreat into seclusion has been marked by repressed emotions, second-guessing and, perhaps for the first time in the overachiever’s adult life, sustained boredom, according to interviews with more than a dozen of Romney’s closest friends and advisers.
“Is he disappointed? Of course he’s disappointed. He’s like 41,” adviser Ron Kaufman said, referring to former president George H.W. Bush. “Forty-one would hate to lose a game of horseshoes to the gardener in the White House, and Mitt hates to lose. He’s a born competitor.”
The defeated Republican nominee has practically disappeared from public view since his loss, exhibiting the same detachment that made it so difficult for him to connect with the body politic through six years of running for president. He has made no public comments since his concession speech in the early hours of Nov. 7 and avoided the press last week during a private lunch with President Obama at the White House. Through an aide, Romney declined an interview request for this story.
After Romney told his wealthy donors that he blamed his loss on “gifts” Obama gave to minority groups, his functionaries were unrepentant and Republican luminaries effectively cast him out. Few of the policy ideas he promoted are even being discussed in Washington.
“Nothing so unbecame his campaign as his manner of leaving it,” said Robert Shrum, a senior strategist on Democratic presidential campaigns. “I don’t think he’ll ever be a significant figure in public life again.”
Yet friends insist Romney is not bitter. Bitterness, said one member of the family, “is not in the Romney genetic code.”
One longtime counselor contrasted Romney with former vice president Al Gore, whose weight gain and beard became a symbol of grievance over his 2000 loss. “You won’t see heavyset, haggard Mitt,” he said. Friends say a snapshot-gone-viral showing a disheveled Romney pumping gas is just how he looks without a suit on his frame or gel in his hair.