Mitt Romney took a whack this week at Senate conservatives who want to defund Obamacare by removing it from the continuing resolution that funds the federal government, an unusual entry into the political arena by a recently vanquished presidential candidate.
"I badly want Obamacare to go away, and stripping it of funds has appeal," Romney told a Republican banquet in New Hampshire on Tuesday evening. "But we need to exercise great care about any talk of shutting down government. I'm afraid that in the final analysis, Obamacare would get its funding, our party would suffer in the next elections, and the people of the nation would not be happy."
Many who blame the former Massachusetts governor and his campaign for the loss to President Barack Obama last fall are asking why Romney — at 66 and almost certainly not a candidate for any office again — chose one of his few opportunities to make news with a broadside against a position held by much of his own party.
"Ex-politicians who don't plan to be politicians again are freelancers — out on their own," Stephen Hess, once an aide to Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, told Newsmax. "The only audience they have is in the media, and so there is a lot more assurance they will get coverage there if they are controversial within their own party.
"They can choose to say and do anything they want, but the more controversial they are, the more successful they are in the media," said Hess, co-author of the still-quoted 1968 book "The Republican Establishment."
That the defeated Republican nominee would say anything at all about policy is incongruous and inconsistent with the history of past losing presidential nominees who didn't hold an office when the race was over.
Several losing presidential candidates continued to hold office after their defeat and remained major players in the political debate.
After losing the 1944 election to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Dewey was still governor of New York, and managed to win a second presidential nomination in 1948 — and then lost to Harry Truman as well. In 1952, while still governor, Dewey played a pivotal role in securing the Republican nomination for Dwight Eisenhower.
And John McCain, after being beaten by Barack Obama in 2008, remains a senior and powerful senator from Arizona who has to be listened to, even when fellow Republicans disagree with him — as many did on Tuesday when he described the toppling of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi as a coup and called for cutting off U.S. aid.
But nominees who hold no office are usually careful about addressing national issues and their party's positions.
Following his razor-thin defeat in 1960, Richard Nixon focused on his home state of California and running for governor in 1962. It was only after losing that race, that Nixon began campaigning for fellow Republicans nationwide and laying the groundwork for his successful comeback.
In a similar fashion, after 1964, Barry Goldwater devoted his energy to returning to the Senate seat he left to run for president and did this with ease in 1968.
The exception to this history is Wendell Willkie, former Democrat who re-registered as a Republican in 1939 and, almost improbably, won the Republican nomination in 1940.
Willkie lost to FDR that year but continued criticizing conservatives in the Republican Party while winning admirers in the national press.
After Willkie called for a tax increase in 1944, the liberal New Republic wrote that he "has a habit of crawling so far out on a limb that his support does not seem to be connected with the Republican tree trunk at all." This proved prophetic, as Willkie ran dismally in the 1944 primaries and soon abandoned his bid for a comeback campaign.
Although comparisons can easily be made between Willkie and Romney after their respective defeats, there is a major difference: Willkie was poised to run again for president but Romney isn't.
Bob Dole is another former Republican nominee who finished the 1996 race with no office. Since then, he has rarely addressed policy or what his Republican successors are doing, but has devoted his energy to worthy causes — numerous charities, the plight of the disabled and wounded veterans, and the World War II Memorial in Washington.
At his recent 90th birthday party, Dole was hailed by friends and former foes as a man who put politics behind him.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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