On inauguration day, attention briefly turned to President Obama’s campaign opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has largely withdrawn from public life since his loss to Obama. But that’s okay, it seems. Romney’s son Tagg told U.S. News & World Report, “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life.”
And that was the problem, the same problem that plagued the candidacies of Sen. John McCain, Sen. Bob Dole and the re-election campaign of Pres. George H.W. Bush. All of these candidates sought to cap admirable careers in public service by serving as President of the United States.
But public spiritedness cannot match the gut-punching ability of a candidate who really, really wants to be President because he knows there are big issues at stake. That kind of candidate, which includes President Obama, is willing to do what it takes to win. Obama knows what he wants America to look like, and he thinks it is very important that his vision prevail and that the conservative vision fail. When the stakes are that high, you’re willing to abandon previous positions–think Obama’s commitment to public financing of campaigns–and run brutal, if misleading, campaign ads.
The outcome wasn’t set in stone. Following a devastating performance by Obama in the first presidential debate, Romney had a solid chance to win the election. So what went wrong? My take is that Romney let Obama get off the mat. In the following two debates Romney failed to go for the knockout, despite the opening provided by the administration’s inept response to the Benghazi terrorist attack. The pundits described this Rose Garden strategy as an effort to avoid alienating independents. Perhaps. But I also suspect a natural disinclination to do what the public responded to most in the Romney campaign: mix it up and really throw some punches.
It’s not a question of ethics–we’re not talking about stuffing ballot boxes here. It’s about campaign tactics that match the gravity of the issues being contested. A winning candidate never stops fighting and runs his campaign as if lives and fortunes depend upon the outcome. Because they do: the safety and economic well-being of Americans depend crucially upon the choices made in Washington, D.C.
Gov. Romney is a good man and I’m confident he would have made a fine President. But if there’s one lesson Republicans should consider as the 2016 speculation inevitably gains steam, it’s this: You’ve got to want it.
HT: Michael Walsh.