WASHINGTON – At some point late on Thursday morning, Mitt Romney will be driven to the steps of the White House. He will get out of the car, be escorted to a room adjacent to the Oval Office, and sit down for lunch.
But rather than arriving as an occupant, the one-time presidential hopeful will be a guest in someone else’s house.
In a meeting that has been weeks in the making, Romney will join President Obama for private lunch at the White House just 23 days after he lost the election. It will be the first time they have met since the election, and it follows several weeks in which Romney has started to contemplate life outside of politics.
It marks both an early olive branch extended to a vanquished political rival and also is a potentially pivotal moment for Romney. In the weeks after he lost the election, he has been cast aside for saying that Obama won because of the “gifts” he bestowed upon Hispanics, African Americans, and young voters.
Before his lunch at the White House, Romney is planning to meet with his former running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, in the first time they’ve seen each other face-to-face since the election.
Those close to Romney say he hasn’t decided yet what he wants to do next. He is planning to move into an office within Solamere Capital, a venture capital firm on Newbury Street that was co-founded by Romney’s oldest son, Tagg, and his finance chairman, Spencer Zwick.
Former Romney advisers say that he is subleasing office space, but he has no plans to actually have a role within the firm. Still, the move does indicate that Romney is beginning to lay the groundwork for a Boston-based life after the presidential campaign.
“He’s a very competitive guy and he always analyzes; he’ll analyze this,” said one longtime Romney adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “But I don’t think he feels blue or angry or anything like that.”
Meanwhile, the second-guessing of Romney and his campaign staff continues. Defending Romney, senior strategist Stuart Stevens wrote an oped published Wednesday in the Washington Post.
Obama “was a charismatic African American president with a billion dollars, no primary and a media that often felt morally conflicted about being critical,” Stevens wrote. “How easy is that to replicate?”
The meeting at the White House has been several weeks in the making, and was first brought up on election night, when Obama said he wanted to get together with his Republican rival. In a press conference a week later, he said that there are certain aspects of Romney’s record and his ideas that could be “very helpful.”
“To give you one example, I do think he did a terrific job running the Olympics,” Obama said. “And you know, that skill set of trying to figure out how do we make something work better applies to the federal government.”
Obama said that he wanted to hear some of Romney’s ideas about making the federal government more customer-friendly, and how to eliminate additional waste. He said that he didn’t have “some specific assignment” for Romney but wanted to “see if there are some ways that we can potentially work together.”
“He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with,” Obama said. “And so it’d be interesting to talk to him about something like that. There may be ideas that he has with respect to jobs and growth that can help middle-class families that I want to hear.”
Just before Thanksgiving, the White House called Matt Rhoades, who was Romney’s campaign manager, to see if Romney would be interested in having lunch at the White House. Rhoades replied that he would, and the lunch started to be pieced together.
“It was a gracious invitation from the president, which Mitt Romney was glad to accept,” Eric Fehrnstrom, a longtime Romney aide, said on Wednesday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday that Obama had no particular assignment for Romney. When asked whether he was being considered for any cabinet position, Carney said flatly, “No.” He said the meeting would be closed to the press.
“One of the often overlooked but remarkable things about this democracy is that we consistently have elections and either pass power to a new leader, or voters chose to continue investing the power and authority of the office in the same party or individual without violence and without the kind of anguish and disruptions we see in so many countries throughout the world and throughout history,” Carney said. “The president feels it’s important to continue that tradition.”
The tradition stretches back at least to 1960, when John F. Kennedy met with Richard Nixon at Nixon’s home in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Most of the meetings are marked by tense rooms, grimaced faces, and an awkward moment between two ultracompetitive men.
President Clinton gave the Medal of Freedom to Bob Dole two months after the 1996 election, for example, and President George W. Bush invited Al Gore to the White House after he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Michael Dukakis met with Bush about a month after the 1988 election. In the days after the 2008 election, Obama met with John McCain in Chicago. They pledged to work together, something that has not transpired.
The meeting between Romney and Obama will be the most extensive meeting ever between the two men. They haven’t seen one another in person since the final debate, on Oct. 22, and they have never had much of a personal relationship.
But Romney has mostly faded from public view. He took in the movie “Twilight” with his wife, Ann, and dined on pizza afterward, an outing that was covered by the gossip website TMZ. He went to Disneyland, and was photographed on roller coasters with some of his sons and grandchildren.
He was also photographed by a bystander while he was pumping gas in California, shown with unkempt hair and a weary facial expression.
“Mitt Romney at my local gas station,” wrote a user named mkb95, who posted the photo of Romney pumping gas on the social media site Reddit. “He looks tired and washed up.”
Romney posted a warmer photo of himself on his Facebook page, with his arms draped around Ann as he smiles broadly and wears a blue-t-shirt and khakis. “Hope everyone had a great Thanskgiving! [sic]” he wrote. “Much to be thankful for this year.”