Republicans Mourning for Mitt Romney? Not So Much

GOP leaders seem to be keeping Romney at arm's length.

November 16, 2012, 4:59 PM

Nov. 17, 2012 -- Republicans are over it.

And most of them aren't doing much mourning for Mitt Romney.

Just over a week since the two-time Republican presidential hopeful failed to deny President Obama a second term, instead of offering up condolences for a candidate who garnered 48 percent of the popular vote, GOP leaders seem to be keeping Romney at arm's length.

"I've never run for president -- I've lost elections but never for the presidency -- and I'm sure it stings terribly," New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie said in an interview Friday morning with MSNBC, but added: "When you lose, you lost."

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, an early endorser and a frequent presence by Romney's side on the campaign trail, echoed Christie.

"The campaign is over," she said in an MSNBC interview on Thursday, "and what the voters are looking for us to do is to accept their votes and go forward."

A period of blame and soul-searching was inevitable for Republicans after Nov. 6, but Romney hastened it with his candid comments on a conference call with donors this week in which he attributed President Obama's win to the "gifts" he gave to key voting blocs.

Specifically, Romney told some of his top campaign contributors that he lost because, in his words, "what the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked."

According to Romney, some of the best "gifts" went to Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly supported President Obama.

"One, he gave them a big gift on immigration with the Dream Act amnesty program, which was obviously very, very popular with Hispanic voters, and then No. 2 was Obamacare," Romney said on a conference call, audio of which was obtained by ABC News.

It took almost no time for GOP leaders to disavow Romney's assessment.

"I don't think that represents where we are as a party and where we're going as a party," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender, said at a press conference at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Las Vegas earlier this week. "If we're going to continue to be a competitive party and win elections on the national stage and continue to fight for our conservative principles, we need two messages to get out loudly and clearly: One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the votes, and second, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream."

Ayotte also refused to give Romney any cover: "I don't agree with the comments."

Neither did former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, one of Romney's primary rivals who went on to become one of his most ardent surrogates.

"I don't think it's as simple as saying the president gave out gifts," he said in an interview with C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program that is set to air this weekend.

Pawlenty said that President Obama "just tactically did a better job getting out the vote in his campaign" and "at least at the margins, was better able to connect with people in this campaign."

His view is backed up by the national exit polls, which show that 53 percent of voters said that President Obama was "more in touch" with people like them compared with 43 percent who said the same of Romney.

The exit polls also found that on Election Day, President Obama enjoyed a 53 percent favorability rating compared with Romney who was underwater on favorability with 47 percent.

And the criticism leveled at Romney from members of his own party this week didn't stop there. At the gathering of governors in Las Vegas, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said Romney's assessment was an example of "what sets us back as a party."

"Republicans need to stop making assumptions, and they need to start talking to younger people, people of color, and ask them -- not talk to them --ask them, 'What is it that we can do better? How do we earn your vote?" Martinez said in an interview, according to Yahoo! News.

But it wasn't just Romney's remarks on the donor conference call that have Republicans treating him like persona non grata. Unlike the 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, who returned to the Senate after his loss, Romney's political future within the party is unclear.

Some confidants have speculated that he is more likely to return to the private sector rather than continue to be a player in the political arena, especially given what is shaping up to be a crowded field of 2016 contenders.

"There's a real sense among many Republicans of a generational shift -- the farm team on the gubernatorial and congressional level hasn't been this strong since the mid-'90's," said Republican strategist Joe Brettell, "and as they step into the spotlight, I think you'll hear the same principles of economic opportunity, strong defense and personal freedom expressed in a new way by dynamic new leaders."

And as some of those new leaders sought to distance themselves from Romney's comments this week, the Republican candidate told those same donors the wound from his loss last week still feels fresh.

"We're still having a hard time, just contemplating what could have been versus what is, and it just doesn't seem real, we're still in the stage of denial at my house," Romney said with a chuckle. "We still think the campaign is going on."

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