December 2, 2012

Mitt Romney in transition: 'Born competitor,' reluctant loser

The presidential aspirant has all but disappeared from public, reportedly bored but not bitter.

By PHILIP RUCKER The Washington Post

The man who planned to be president wakes up each morning now without a plan. Mitt Romney looks out the windows of his beach house here in La Jolla, Calif., a moneyed and pristine enclave of San Diego, at noisy construction workers fixing up his next-door neighbor's home, sending regular updates on the renovation. He devours news from 2,600 miles away in Washington about the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, shaking his head and wondering what if.

Republican presidential nominee Romney
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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stands on stage with his wife, Ann, after he delivered his concession speech in Boston. Friends say the also-ran isn’t bitter about his loss. Bitterness “is not in the family genetic code,” said one. Friends say the loss has been harder on Ann, who they report has been crying in private.

Reuters

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 emailing his CEO buddies, who've 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.

"He's not a poor loser," said John Miller, a meatpacking magnate who co-chaired Romney's finance committee and owns the beach house next door. "He's not crying on anybody's shoulders. He's not blaming anybody. ... He's doing a lot of personal introspection about the whole process -- and I'm not even sure that's healthy. There's nothing you can do about it now."

By all accounts, the past month has been most difficult on Romney's wife, Ann, who friends said believed up until the end that ascending to the White House was their destiny. They said she has been crying in private and trying to get back to riding her horses.

(Continued on page 2)

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