It’s a remarkable thing in politics how fortunes change and how just a smal twist of fate can completely alter a politician’s trajectory and the future of the nation.
During the 2008 Republican convention, I went into a large restroom in the stadium soon before John McCain was to give his acceptance speech. In walked a guy who looked familiar. I thought, Isn’t that . . . ?
At first nobody recognized him. But after a bit, someone did. “Hello Senator,” the person said, addressing former Sen. George Allen of Virginia.
As you may remember, in 2006, Allen was cruising toward a easy reelection until he insulted an Indian-American opposition operative by using an apparent slur, “Macaca.”
He went on to defeat in an campaign that was expected to be a springboard to an auspicious drive for the Republican nomination in 2008.
This whole convention could have been his. This moment, that of the acceptance speech, his crowning as the Republican standard bearer. Instead, there he was in the men’s room, barely noticed.
Mitt Romney this afternoon arrived on stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting, which I was covering, to a sincerely felt roar and a standing ovation. The packed house then listened intently and regularly punctuated his remarks with thunderous applause.
Romney was gracious and tried to be upbeat – “I utterly reject pessimism” – describing leaders who represent the future of conservatism and, perhaps, the republic. Classy as always, he tipped his hat to his former running mate – “I applaud the clear and convincing voice of my friend Paul Ryan” – evincing none of the chilliness that often develops between running mates who lose.
And he talked about his abiding passion and true his reason for running: America’s greatness and the need to preserve it. For him, the quest for the presidency wasn’t so much about conservatism, it was about the country. But that cost him, because GOP voters know the nation needs conservatism.
It was, of course, not the speech to CPAC Romney wanted to give. He had hoped to be preceded by the sounds of “Hail to the Chief” and deliver a bold assertion of his plans to resurrect a nation staggering at home and increasingly disrespected around the world.
“I’m sorry I won’t be your president, but I will be your co-worker and and work shoulder to shoulder alongside you,” he said.
CPAC really seemed to love him only in defeat. His reception was far louder, for example, than that given today to Bobby Jindal, who supposedly represents the future. But Jindal hasn’t proven himself to the public yet either as a man or a politician. Romney has demonstrated at least the former – that he’s a gentleman who loves his country.
Many polls were wrong last year, and President Obama pulled out what to Republicans and Romney himself was surprising win amidst a presidency pockmarked buy failures.
And so fate made its fickle will known, and Romney was here today not to begin his presidency, but to bid farewell.