At first blush, it looks like yet another indignity for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. There was former President George W. Bush, a man who surely understands that Romney is indeed going to be the man who will try to unseat the guy who beat the other guy who wanted Bush's job in 2008. And when Bush was asked whether he would endorse, he said, "I'm for Mitt Romney." Right as the elevator doors closed.
Bush's low-key declaration comes in the damning-with-faint-praise department. And even worse, it came too late for the former president to compete in the "Most Tepid Endorsement" contest started by Google (the honor went to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels). But is it all really so awful for Romney?
Let's take a frank look at endorsements, and what they mean. Nothing. Nothing, is what they mean. Perhaps back in the day when party apparatchiks picked nominees, it mattered. Perhaps in the days before voters were overinformed (make that over-misinformed) by the Internet, and therefore knew little about candidates, it mattered. But rarely does an endorsement mean squat anymore. Only in a handful of cases—such as the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008, a move which gave an old-style Democratic sanction to a younger, less experienced candidate—does an endorsement make a difference. And Kennedy's endorsement didn't even win Obama Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts in the primary, which has long been loyal to the Clintons. Endorsements mean even less when the candidate has already sewn up the nomination.
In Romney's case, the lackluster endorsements probably are an indication of the lack of passion the former Massachusetts governor provokes in people. Again, is this so terrible? You know who provokes a strong emotional reaction from the public? Donald Trump, that's who. Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, that's who. It's not always a good thing. The opposite of hate isn't love; it's indifference.
And Bush's remarks must be taken in the context of his post-Oval Office life. To his great (and underappreciated) credit, Bush has been quiet. If he has disagreed with Obama on policy, or if he had any kind of strong feelings about Obama's successful (but risky) decision to take out Osama bin Laden, he's kept it to himself. It's the honorable thing to do, and it's not been mimicked by others who served in his administration.
Finally, with politicians' approval ratings at astonishing low points, what worth is there, really, to have another name on one's list of endorsements? It might be better to do without.
The lack of enthusiasm for Romney is, truly, a problem. But it has nothing to do with tepid endorsements from fellow politicians. It has to do with the so-so response from rank-and-file Americans. There's only one category of endorsements Romney needs, and that is the voters. He might not get many official endorsements, but that won't damage him. Make the lack of passion from entrenched politicians a badge of honor, and the voters might develop a little excitement.