One hundred years ago, my former employer, mentor, and friend—President Theodore Roosevelt—challenged me to primary contests in all extant 48 states. The history books spell out the facts: After I ran for and won the presidency in the election of 1908, I became Teddy’s successor. Many expected me to become his puppet in the White House—Teddy included. Much like Bartleby, that fictional scrivener of Melville’s, I preferred not to.
Also like Bartleby, I was forcibly removed from the place where I steadfastly held my position: Only in my case, that place was the White House.
The experience of being voted out of office after a single term was a crushing one. But it taught me a lesson I feel today’s Republican contenders would do well to learn—especially in the wake of yesterday’s Super Tuesday results.
That lesson: Keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your party at arm’s length.
Allow me to clarify. Take, for the example, the presumed Republican nominee, Governor Romney. In his scramble to hew to the GOP’s increasingly intransigent stance on everything from health care to social issues, he has allowed himself to drift. He hems and haws and hedges. His opinions change with the tide. But worse than that, they seem to now be mired in a vague, nebulous fog of insipidness and indecision.
Romney won Ohio, my beloved home state, after yesterday’s Super Tuesday primary. It was the most essential state he needed to carry in the nationwide contest. But he won by the skin of his teet— whereas any potential nominee in his position of presumed, inevitable victory should have swept it. It isn’t because the GOP base disagrees with him. It’s not even that they don’t like him. It’s that they don’t know what he is, or whom there is to like. I believe Romney has solid views and character. Somewhere. It’s just that I have never seen them.
To employ a sports metaphor (my apologies, but I am, after all, the first president to have thrown out a pitch at a Major League game): Romney has aimed for the base but lost sight of the bleachers.
Now, I am not normally in the business of giving advice to my opponents. And I will admit to a lingering, bittersweet attachment to the GOP, the party I once led (even if I have a difficult time recognizing it in this day and age, hence my independent campaign in 2012). Honestly, I care not a whit about Romney’s political fortunes. But I do believe he would do best—for both the GOP and himself—if he began to solidify his platform. For as much as I hope to win in November, and as much as I disagree with so much of the GOP’s contemporary beliefs, I still wish to see President Obama defeated.
My wishes on the subject, of course, will be moot unless Romney steps up his game. And he can only do that by running as Mitt Romney first, an American second, and a Republican a distant third. I do not suggest he join me here in the independent dugout, excluded from most major media coverage (not to mention debates—they must fear my rhetorical acumen!). But unless he learns that he must find common ground with the electorate, rather than the GOP base only, his Super Tuesday victories in Ohio and elsewhere will be squandered come November. And the loser, more than anyone else, will be the American people, who will once again be led to believe that our glorious system of government is irreparably broken and partisan. Where in truth, our great democracy is as healthy at its core as it ever was, if only we choose to exercise our hearts and wills as freethinking, independent individuals.
I do not say all this from a position of superiority, rancor, or envy. Only from a position of—having a position.