WASHINGTON - Days after failing to sail into the White House, Mitt Romney is already being tossed overboard by his party. The former Massachusetts governor has rapidly become persona non grata to a shellshocked Republican Party, which appears eager to map out its future without its 2012 nominee.
Romney was by all accounts stunned at the scale of his Nov. 6 loss, dropping quickly from view after delivering a short, gracious concession speech to a half-empty Boston arena. Then came a series of tin-eared remarks this week blaming his loss on President Obama's "gifts" to blacks and Hispanics -- putting him squarely at odds with party leaders struggling to build bridges with minorities. "You can't expect to be a leader of all the people and be divisive," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Friday on MSNBC.
It's a remarkable fall from grace for Romney, who just 10 days ago held the chance of a GOP return to power at the White House. The messy aftermath of his failure suggests that Romney, a political amalgam with no natural constituency beyond the business community, is unlikely to play a significant role in rebuilding his party.
"He's not going to be running for anything in the future," said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who sharply criticized Romney's comments about Hispanics. "He's not our standard-bearer, unfortunately."
Romney adviser Stuart Stevens strongly disagreed, calling Romney "the most popular Republican on the national scene at the moment," given the votes he received on Election Day. Views of defeated candidates can change dramatically over time, Stevens added.
"Even those who have been critical of the campaign on our side realize in the end that Governor Romney was resonating with millions of Americans and was running the kind of campaign we could all be proud of," Stevens said. "I think the governor can have the political road of his choosing. I have no idea what that would be."
The fate of failed presidential nominees varies widely in modern times.
It's possible that the 2012 nominee could be headed for the kind of political ignominy occupied by another former governor and presidential candidate from Massachusetts, Democrat Michael Dukakis, who essentially went sight unseen after his drubbing by George H.W. Bush in 1988.
"There is life after presidential defeat in some cases, but not all," said Stephen Hess, a presidential historian at the Brookings Institution. "There are still possibilities for service, whether public or otherwise. If you live long enough, there's often a process of restoration."
First-term House Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is calling on his party to tackle immigration reform, said Romney's latest remarks amount to "blame and disregard" for voters. "I don't like the fact that we lost this election; there's no doubt about that," Gardner said. "But I'm not going to place the blame for this election on the shoulders of people who didn't vote for the Republican Party. We need to figure out the reason why we lost the election honestly."
Craig Shirley, an adviser to conservative groups, said the comments underscore Romney's fundamental weakness as a nominee. "Conventional wisdom in Republican circles was that Romney was the best candidate," he said. "In hindsight, he may have been the worst choice."