It's been many months since the election and it appears that Mitt Romney is figuring out his next gig. Or, maybe he's already figured it out but the media hasn't. Not that he needs career counseling from any of us but we can assume after a stint as governor of Massachusetts and two unfulfilled White House adventures, politics is probably not on his to-do list. We suggest he take a look at what another corporate-executive-turned-presidential-candidate did after his election drubbing. We're talking WENDELL WILLKIE. If that name does not show up in your knowledge bank, no reason to feel impoverished. Willkie is one of four -- count 'em -- four unsuccessful GOP contenders against Franklin Roosevelt. (Extra points if you can name the other three.*)
Before his dark-horse candidacy in the 1940 election Wendell Willkie was a successful utilities executive from Ohio who had never run for political office, was a Republican moderate and an ardent internationalist prior to WWII when staying out of Europe's messy affairs was a potent issue led by America's No. 1 hero and isolationist Charles Lindbergh.
As a candidate, Willkie had political history on his side. He was challenging Roosevelt's unprecedented and audacious THIRD term -- something no sitting president had ever dared before.
Romney was challenging a president with a vote-suppressing high unemployment rate
Like Romney, pundits predicted a Willkie victory.
Like Romney, Willkie's campaign featured his success in the business world. Like Romney, Willkie lost his election by 5 million votes -- very close to the same 5 million spread between Romney and Obama. So, it may be helpful to see how this Republican outsider handled his post-election life.
According to Lynne Olson's illuminating Tantor audiobook, Those Angry Days, Willkie traveled the country promoting the importance of international cooperation once the war was over. Roosevelt even invited his former opponent into his administration. Willkie declined but became an unofficial ambassador-at-large for Roosevelt and the country, traveling the world pitching the importance of a world free from totalitarianism, imperialism and colonialism.
His 1943 book, One World, was a huge bestseller, helping to nudge public opinion toward the idea of a post-war United Nations. This did not sit well with the conservative wing of his party. Like Romney, they never forgave him for his moderate positions. They not only thwarted his attempt at the 1944 nomination they didn't even invite him to the convention. How much of Romney will be seen at the next GOP gathering?
Undaunted by his loss, Willkie said, "If I could write my own epitaph and had to choose between saying, 'Here lies an unimportant president or here lies one who contributed to saving freedom at a moment of great peril,' I would prefer the latter."
Whether or not you think this is a time of great peril, wouldn't it be helpful to have the business-savvy Romney follow Willkie's example as a globe-trotting ambassador promoting something like economic trade and cooperation? Of course, that would take a willing Romney and a magnanimous president Obama. Might just be worth a try.
(* Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon and Tom Dewey)