WASHINGTON — Remember Mitt Romney? Tall guy, slightly awkward. Looks like a 1950s matinee idol.
You could be forgiven for having trouble conjuring up Romney's image, even though it's been less than two months since he lost the presidential election.
Republicans' rush to erase the memory of Romney from the American consciousness has been breathtaking. Within days of his surprisingly lopsided defeat, those who want to take his place at the top of the party started distancing themselves from a man they had embraced not long before.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) has aggressively highlighted Republicans' need to focus on the middle class, a not-so-subtle repudiation of Romney's infamous comments about the 47 percent of Americans whose votes he discounted as unwinnable. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told the GOP to "stop being the stupid party." Even Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), in a D.C. speech on Dec. 4, tried to run from the man who'd been his running mate just a month earlier. "We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American," he said.
Romney hasn't helped his case for relevance by seeming completely uninterested in playing even a small role in the "fiscal cliff" debate. And when he has spoken about the election, he has sounded decidedly bitter. His comment, made on a conference call with donors, that President Barack Obama won by offering "gifts" to various constituencies reeked of sour grapes and a poor post-game analysis. It also hastened the already-in-progress retreat from Romney.
It's an easy out for Republicans to blame their loss on him. But the 2012 election exposed the fact that the GOP has become an increasingly white party in an increasingly diverse country. Demographics are destiny in politics; it's hard to believe that any other GOP 2012 candidate would have outperformed Romney among Hispanics, women or young voters.
Still, to the winner go the spoils, and to the loser goes the blame. If the recent reaction to Romney is any indicator, he is likely to be persona non grata for ambitious Republicans who want to remake the party in their own image — not his.
That reality — coupled with the fact that Romney doesn't hold elected office and seems unlikely to run again — makes him perhaps the least memorable major-party presidential nominee since Michael Dukakis.
That Romney would leave such a slight imprint on the political scene, given the stakes Republicans set in this election, is remarkable. And it means he had a bad year.