Commentary Magazine


Liberals Already Miss Mitt Romney

There is more than enough silly commentary on the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations to go around, but you can’t do much better than Dana Milbank’s column today for the Washington Post. Milbank’s column emerges out of the latest trend in liberal opinion writing: now that the election is over, they have made a conscious decision to consider being more honest in their political pronouncements.

Reason magazine flagged a prime example of this on Monday, when they picked up on a quote from the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg: “[Obama] was the champion of our side, he vanquished the foe….. [but] now liberals don’t have to worry about hurting his chances for re-election, so they can be tougher in urging him to do what he should be doing.” Milbank’s entry today isn’t quite at Hertzberg’s level, but it’s in the same vein. Now that the election is over, Milbank can admit it: the country really needs Mitt Romney.

You might think that liberals would appreciate Romney’s decision to step out of the spotlight and accept his loss to Obama with grace and dignity. After all, even though John McCain is still a senator, nearly every time he criticizes President Obama it is chalked up to an apparent case of sour grapes over the election. Romney isn’t even in office. But no matter. Milbank wants Romney back in the arena, and he’s going to taunt him out of hiding:

Never again, likely, will his voice and influence be as powerful as they are now. Yet rather than stepping forward to help find a way out of the fiscal standoff, or to help his party rebuild itself, he delivered a perfunctory concession speech, told wealthy donors that Obama won by giving “gifts” to minorities, then avoided the press at a private lunch with President Obama.

Though keeping nominal residence in Massachusetts, the state he led as governor, he moved out to his California home and has been spotted at Disneyland, at the new “Twilight” movie, at a pizza place, pumping gas and going to the gym. In warm weather, he plans to live at his lakefront manse in New Hampshire. The man who spoke passionately about his love for the American auto industry has been driving around in a new Audi Q7.

A former adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, told Rucker that Romney will “be involved in some fashion” in public service. And nobody can begrudge Romney some downtime. But his failure to engage now, at a time when he could have the most clout, reinforces the impression that his candidacy was less about principle and patriotism than about him.

That’s what you get for bowing out gracefully and spending time with your family, if you’re a Republican. But put aside the fact that Republicans are trying to move on from much of Romney’s problematic messaging during the election and rebuild their brand around some of their more popular elected officials. Did Milbank always think of Romney as a man whose involvement in public life was so important to the country? No.

In a sarcastic response to conservative complaints that the media was being unfairly critical of Romney, Milbank suggested in September that the press back off. Romney, he said, was a gaffe machine, and simply for the entertainment value the press should help him get elected. “Admittedly, this may not be the best outcome for the country, or for the world,” Milbank snickered, adding that “he could bring transatlantic relations back to War of 1812 levels.”

But the fiscal cliff is about economics, and that’s where Romney’s business experience could come in handy, right? What did pre-election Milbank think of Romney’s business experience? He summed it up in an August column in which he said that a business-oriented video game his young daughter played functioned “strikingly like Bain Capital did under Mitt Romney.” And how is that? “The game is devoid of business ethics,” he wrote.

Romney was a liar, Milbank said in the week of the election. But that might be because he’s a brainwashed zombie, as Milbank had proposed a month earlier. By the time the election was over, Milbank said, the Romney campaign had “abandoned any pretense of being a campaign for the common man.”

In some ways, Milbank’s column is actually a breakthrough in bipartisanship. It took Democrats quite some time to decide that Ronald Reagan wasn’t purely evil through and through. It only took them a few years to reconsider George W. Bush in light of contemporary Republican officeholders. And now it has taken only a matter of weeks for the left to admit that the Republican presidential candidate isn’t who they said he was; he’s not so bad after all, and their guy isn’t so great, it turns out. At this rate, it won’t be long before liberals come to grips with reality before, instead of after, a presidential election.

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