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The Lesson Romney Can Teach the Republican Party

The Washington Postreports some good news:

In private, Romney has told friends he has little interest in helping the Republican Party rebuild and re-brand itself.

It’s just as well that Romney has no interest in this, since I doubt there are any Republicans eager to hear his suggestions on what they should do. Then again, it would be extremely unusual for a party to take its cues from its failed presidential candidate. If Romney had useful suggestions on a different direction for the party, the election campaign would have been the time to offer them. When it has happened, it happened because the activists and politicians aligned with the losing candidates took over their respective parties in the following years and decades.

Conventional losing candidates represent their party as it is at the time, so they have the least useful advice on how to fix the party’s failings. The defeat of such a conventional candidate is necessary to beginning the process of remedying the party’s weaknesses, but the candidate himself will normally have little to add to the diagnosis of what has gone wrong. Conventional losing candidates have little credibility with their parties in the wake of a defeat, and in many ways they are too close to and implicated in the party’s failures that they likely remain most oblivious to the reasons for their defeat. Because such candidates are typically conforming to what the party wants, there are no ideas or causes that distinguish them their respective party lines. As a result, they leave behind few loyalists and they have no impact on what the party does in the future except to serve as a cautionary tale, a warning about what not to do.

Even if he wished to do so, Romney is in an even weaker position to influence the GOP than most other losing nominees. He has been out of elected office for almost six years, and he presumably won’t ever hold elected office again. By itself, that wouldn’t have to keep him from contributing to the intra-party debate, but Romney wouldn’t have anything to add to that debate even if he joined it. As a famously unprincipled politician who ran a campaign that was mostly about nothing, there have been no issues that seem to animate Romney and no cause other than his own self-promotion that drives him to participate in politics. If Romney’s failure can teach the GOP anything, it is that utterly shameless opportunism and unscrupulous pandering can only get a candidate so far.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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