Politics

Byron York: How will conservatives greet Mitt Romney's reappearance?

BY: Byron York February 28, 2013 | 12:00 am
Mitt Romney will make his first appearance since losing the 2012 presidential election on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend. (Photo: Stephan Savoia/AP file)

Mitt Romney is coming back into public view.

This weekend the former Republican presidential candidate will appear on "Fox News Sunday," his first interview since losing to Barack Obama nearly four months ago. And on March 15, Romney will speak to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the same event at which he declared himself a "severely conservative Republican governor" during a 2012 speech.

Romney's re-emergence is likely to be met by a mixed response from Republicans. Yes, many respect him as a decent man who has done a lot of good things in his life. But just as many are still angry at him for losing. They view 2012 as a winnable race, had Romney run a sharper, more creative, more aggressive campaign. Of course, Romney and his aides worked hard, but they were outplayed on many fronts by an Obama campaign that knew how to win.

A lot of the criticism directed at Romney is valid. He and his top advisers did make a lot of mistakes, big and small. But for a moment, perhaps, Republicans should appreciate one thing about Mitt Romney. After he lost, he has not disgraced himself and his party. And that is a lot more than can be said of the previous Republican presidential campaign.

After the 2008 race, a number of John McCain's senior aides spent months attacking each other, trashing vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and in general showing by example why they ran such a disorganized and ineffective campaign.

Within hours of McCain's defeat, top aides were dumping on Palin, accusing her of being a rogue candidate, of blowing $150,000 in campaign money on a new wardrobe, and of being woefully unprepared for even the most basic duties of a running mate. Palin was a "diva" and a "whack job." And when Palin loyalists came to her defense, they found themselves under attack, too.

When National Review's Rich Lowry wrote an account of the infighting, he titled it "In the Snake Pit: The Sad End of the McCain Campaign." That pretty much told the story.

Even after the first disappointment of defeat faded, McCain's aides continued to attack each other, for fun and profit. They spoke in depth to the authors of the campaign book "Game Change," who were happy to recount the dysfunction in cinematic style. And then the story literally became cinema, when HBO focused the movie "Game Change" on the Palin mess.

In contrast, the Romney post-campaign has been a model of good behavior. Aides haven't been bashing each other, haven't been attacking Romney or running mate Paul Ryan, and in general haven't been embarrassing themselves or the campaign. Team Romney has been the opposite of Team McCain.

Most of Romney's top aides haven't said anything at all publicly about the campaign. One who has is former top strategist Stuart Stevens, who has not only defended Romney -- "a good man who fought hard for values we admire" -- but has weighed in on the current debate about the technology gap between the Democratic and Republican parties.

When Stevens said a few days ago that he did not think the media is "in the tank" for Obama, he took some hits in the conservative press. I spoke to Stevens shortly afterward, and he said he was just trying not to blame the media for Romney's defeat; that would look like whining. (And by the way, Stevens added, "obviously, most reporters lean Democratic.")

In a larger sense, Stevens was baffled by some of the Republican animus against Romney and the campaign. "I understand frustration and anger," Stevens said. "But what does it say about us if we say this man should be the leader of the free world and the next week we start attacking him?"

Stevens has a point. Yes, Romney lost a race some Republicans believe he should have won. And he made plenty of mistakes, which are entirely fair game to discuss. But some of the conservative resentment about 2012 is better directed at the Republican Party as a whole than at the presidential ticket. After all, Romney's flaws as a candidate had been known for several years.

Romney lost and kept his mouth shut for a respectable period of time. His team hasn't engaged in unseemly finger-pointing. And by staying out of the picture, he has allowed his party to begin the job of fixing its problems. Even in a bad situation, that's still something to be thankful for.

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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