Who's missing from the Republican debate on the future of the party? It's their defeated presidential nominee from 2012, Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor, who lost to President Barack Obama in the November election, is the odd man out, with no prominent role so far in rebuilding the GOP, and apparently no desire to get involved.
Having lost to an incumbent who was considered very vulnerable by many GOP strategists, Romney is now seen as an outsider whose opinions and leadership are not sought by his GOP colleagues in Washington.
"Romney has no role in leading the party," says a senior GOP strategist who has advised several other GOP presidential candidates in the past.
Tagg Romney, the former candidate's eldest son, added to the pattern when he said his father didn't really want to be president in the first place. "He wanted to be president less than anyone I've met in my life," Tagg Romney told the Boston Globe. "He had no desire to ...run." The son said he and his mother Ann talked Romney into entering the campaign.
Adding to his lack of influence today, Romney holds no elective office, as GOP presidential nominee John McCain did after his defeat by Obama in 2008. McCain stayed in the Senate, where he remains an important voice. Nor does Romney have another perch from which he can stay front and center, such as being head of a public policy institute or serving as a regular television commentator or a columnist.
"Romney is getting blamed personally for the defeat in November," says the senior GOP strategist. "He raised a lot of money but he didn't spend it well. While he was focusing on TV ads, and doing that too late in the game, Obama had been building up a terrific grass-roots organization that Romney's campaign couldn't match."
In the ongoing debate within the conservative movement, Romney isn't much of a factor. The latest issue of Commentary features many conservatives talking about "What is the Future of Conservatism." But Romney is seen as playing little or no role in rebuilding or rejuvenating the GOP.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.