Romney's uncertain legacy
His chameleon-like shades of Republicanism -- he presented himself as "severely conservative" during the GOP primaries to appeal to the party base, but then moved toward the center as Moderate Mitt from Massachusetts to woo independents -- could make him a pariah in both circles from now on.
Democrats Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey and even George McGovern, and Republicans Barry Goldwater, Bob Dole and John McCain.
Some losers were fortunate enough to have been president before losing the job -- Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republicans Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush -- but to have retained considerable public luster and cachet. McCain and Democrat John Kerry retained their clout in the Senate. Where will Mitt Romney go for solace? Certainly not back to Bain Capital or the State House on Beacon Hill.
The three other presidential losers going back 60 years -- Democrats Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Al Gore -- all remained committed and respected members in their party long after their political careers had ended. If their effectiveness as campaigners was questioned, their devotion to the party's core liberal, New Deal catechism never was.
By contrast, neither among the tea party nor in what is left of moderate Republicanism is Mitt Romney likely ever to have statues raised in his honor. It is hard to imagine that, after flip-flopping on everything from abortion and immigration to his embrace of aspects of "Obamacare" -- for which he provided the model in Massachusetts -- he will ever join the list of the GOP beloved.
Even the Republicans' acknowledged bad apple, Richard Nixon, had enough resilience in the party after his narrow defeat in 1960 by John Kennedy and subsequent loss in the California gubernatorial race to make a political comeback in 1968. Throughout, Nixon was a tireless if not exactly selfless foot soldier in the party ranks, helping engineer the major Republican congressional comeback in 1966.
It is difficult to picture Romney slogging in the political trenches with the same single-minded ambition and drive Nixon had. Late in this year's campaign, Obama needled Romney as being afflicted with "Romnesia" for seemingly forgetting previous issue positions he had taken. More likely, it is Romney himself who will fade from the memories of the Republican faithful, if not his political gaffes.
All last year, Romney was said to be driven by the political misfortune of his father, the Michigan automaker-turned-governor Geroge Romney, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and lost to that year's comeback kid, the same Richard Nixon. But it seems unlikely that son Mitt will ever lift himself off the canvas and try again in the national political arena.
And why should he? He is not driven by the kind of ideological conviction and certitude that is the stuff of successful comebacks. He has demonstrated without question his success in high finance and business, while laying bare his shortcomings in politics. Most notable was his inability to convince voters that he would be on their side in their current travails.
One can only wonder what Mitt Romney's future in the Republican Party might have been had the party adhered to the moderation of George Romney rather than pivoting to the conservativism of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney emulated his father's moderation, but in the recent election he bent himself out of shape trying to become the conservative he professed to be, inviting the flip-flopper image that contributed to his defeat.
Mitt Romney's political identity accordingly is left straddling the fence: mistrusted on the Republican right he so ineffectively courted, and on the party's left regarded as a pretender unfaithful to his father's moderate posture and intentions.
(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at email@example.com.)