WASHINGTON — One hundred seventeen days later, Mitt Romney still isn’t over it.
Making his first public comments since losing last November’s presidential election, Romney appeared mystified still that the country didn’t see things his way. He went on the attack against President Barack Obama during a wide-ranging interview on “Fox News Sunday,” as if the Republican hadn’t lost a beat since giving his last stump speech.
Explaining the defeat, Romney and his wife spread around the blame — Mitt to Obama winning over so many blacks and Hispanics by enacting universal health care, Ann to a news media she believed unfairly caricatured her husband. Yet although Romney said “you rehearse all the mistakes that you made,” Romney mostly did not dwell on his own failings as a candidate.
Romney insisted he is getting on with his life — Fox showed him pushing some grandkids on a swing set and cradling his youngest in his arms (“No. 19 and No. 20,” he called the newborn twins) — but he revealed flashes of pain. For him, the White House forever will remain an unfulfilled destiny.
“I look at what’s happening right now, I wish I were there,” Romney said. “It kills me not to be there, not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done.”
Up until Election Day, both Mitt and Ann said, they thought they would win. “We were a little blindsided,” Ann told Fox anchor Chris Wallace. She seemed more heartbroken than her husband, saying she has cried since he lost on Nov. 6.
“You know the great ‘Princess Bride’ line, ‘Mostly dead’?” she said. “I’m mostly over it. But not completely. And you have moments where you, you know, go back and feel the sorrow of the loss. And so, yes, I think we’re not mostly dead yet.”
She added, “I know he would have been a fabulous president, and I mourn the fact that he’s not there.”
The transition from presidential nominee — life in the intoxicating and never fading spotlight, with a minute-by-minute schedule and bevies of aides, press and Secret Service agents surrounding you — to campaign has-been is always difficult. Just ask John McCain and John Kerry.
But unlike McCain and Kerry, who continued distinguished Senate careers after their failed White House bids in 2008 and 2004 respectively, Romney had no job to return to. The former Massachusetts governor tended his wounds at his San Diego beach house, largely in seclusion, making up for lost time with his family and friends.
Photographs of Romney surfaced online, including one of him pumping his own gas with his hair messed up. “None of those were done by professional photographers — or I might have, you know, combed my hair,” Romney joked to Wallace.
Romney began easing back onto the public stage with Sunday’s interview. He is scheduled to give his first speech since the election at the Conservative Political Action Conference next week.
In the Fox interview, Romney was not shy about critiquing Obama’s handling of the nation’s fiscal crises — continuing the fights that shaped the 2012 campaign.
The hardest part about losing, Romney said, has been watching “this golden moment just slip away with politics.” He accused Obama of using automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester to score political points.
“No one can think that that’s been a success for the president,” Romney said. “He didn’t think the sequester would happen. It is happening. To date, what we’ve seen is the president out campaigning to the American people, doing rallies around the country, flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing.”
Said Ann Romney, “I totally believe at this moment, if Mitt were there in the office, that we would not be facing sequestration right now.”
When Wallace asked him to critique his campaign, Romney said his failure to sway Hispanic and black voters was “a real weakness.” He said minorities voted Democratic in part because “Obamacare was very attractive, particularly to those without health insurance, and they came out in large numbers to vote.”
Although Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief campaign strategist, has pushed this health-care argument, it is not a conventional analysis of why Romney lost.
Many analysts believe Romney lost because he became defined as an out-of-touch plutocrat who championed the wealthy over the middle class. For this, Ann Romney blamed the news media.
“People didn’t really get to know Mitt for who he was,” she told Wallace. “It was not just the campaign’s fault. I believe it was the media’s fault as well, that he was not being given a fair shake… . I’m happy to blame the media.”
Yet Romney’s strategy had been to keep warmer aspects of his biography, such as his numerous charitable deeds when he volunteered as a church bishop, out of public view. He and his family repeatedly declined interview requests on the subject. Only in the final weeks of the campaign did he talk about this part of his life, but by then it was too late.
Perhaps more than any other factor, Romney’s own words — his commentary to donors dismissing the “47 percent” of Americans who back Obama and feel entitled to government handouts — helped a negative narrative take hold.
“It was a very unfortunate statement that I made,” Romney told Wallace. “It’s not what I meant. I didn’t express myself as I wished I would have. It was very harmful. What I said is not what I believe.”
Asked to look back and rate himself as a presidential candidate, Romney said, “I see my mistakes and I see my flaws.”
“I did better this time than I did the time before,” he continued, referencing his failed 2008 run. “And I won’t get a third chance.”