Commentary by Richard Piatt
If you watched results of the presidential election unfold on television this past Tuesday, as most people did, it was probably just a little like watching a competitive sports game, full of suspense and anticipation. Then the moment of truth: The inevitable elation, or deep-sinking feeling, depending on which candidate you supported.
It was one of those rare nights where most in the nation shared a single experience: Election night 2012 had been anticipated for more than a year. And at the Mitt Romney election night headquarters in Boston, it was like watching a balloon deflate in front of you.
Early on the crowd seemed confident, joyful, even cocky in some cases. Later, it became somber. But a lot of people were still determined; convinced Romney would win, until the very end.
Around 9 p.m. Eastern time, a few in the Romney camp were openly disdainful of the media reports that were starting to outline the beginnings of a grim picture of how the night was going to turn out.
As Florida and Ohio remained gridlocked at nearly 50-50 for each candidate, I asked one of the Romney people – he was from somewhere in the campaign – to interpret how things were going. He brushed off the early results from other swing states.
“You media guys. Don’t pay any attention to those results. This thing isn’t over yet.”
Just then, a Fox News report appeared on the big moniters in the ballroom – the campaign had been switching between various networks all night.
“Fox news predicts Ohio will go to President Obama,” the announcer said.
The Romney guy literally disappeared at that moment. I never saw any of them again.
The rest of the crowd wasn’t so quick to leave. They still shared the sentiment that the guy from the campaign had boldly stated earlier. There was still a chance Romney could win, they thought. Or hoped.
But by then there was a stark reality. He would have to win Florida and Ohio and Virginia. All of them. It just wasn’t going to happen.
Mitt himself wasn’t willing to give up, either. The determination that fueled his six-year run for the White House was still alive in a private room not far from the ballroom.
His advisers were telling him to hold off on a concession speech for a while longer. Then, according to a report in the Boston Globe, he faced it.
“It isn’t going to happen,” he said.
He then had to prepare something to say – he hadn’t prepared a concession speech, only a victory speech. Pool reporters say Ann Romney was quietly crying as he left.
When he appeared on stage in the ballroom, there was still a sizable crowd, but by then a lot of people had left. The music suddenly stopped and it became quiet – an amazing silence, considering all the people and media outlets who were there.
People started to chant “Mitt, Mitt, Mitt,” then stopped. A small crowd tried to start a chorus of “God Bless America,” that fizzled out, too.
Without music or further delay, an announcer simply said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Governor Mitt Romney.”
He quickly came out and gave the kind of speech that a lot of people say showed who Mitt Romney really is – not the “Republican candidate” – pulled in so many directions to be so many issues.
His comments were brief. He wished the President and his family well. He wished the best for the nation, thanked the crowd and left. It was a very classy farewell to a very grueling campaign.
“He’s a man of class. Period,” former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said afterward.
Leavitt was hoping he wouldn’t be talking to reporters like me on election night. He was prepared to head up a transition team, with dozens of people ready to hit the ground running after the election.
“If only the people could have seen the Mitt Romney I know. This would have gone the other way.”
I heard that comment, or something like it, from a lot of people that night. Many had tears in their eyes, from suffering a personal loss, not a political one.
And, given all the analysis of “what went wrong” in the Romney campaign, it’s probably true. The “47 percent comments,” immigration, abortion, even gay marriage are all being blamed for Romney’s loss on election night.
It’s too bad, because I never really believed Romney was narrow-minded or bigoted, or unsympathetic to people in need. But especially during the primary election season, that sure was what I was wondering at times.
I didn’t have much contact with Mitt himself during the campaign, unfortunately. The campaign higher-ups kept him far away from Utah press for some reason. I guess they didn’t think we were worth their time. So, I prefer to remember the Mitt I knew during the Olympics, who laughed with me after I shouted “MITT!!” across a hotel lobby while on deadline to get his attention.
Ann Romney is like your best friend’s mom – warm and easy to laugh. Years ago, I saw her in the Apple store at the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City; and over the summer when she popped in to see son Josh during the campaign and asked us to keep her presence quiet. Her smile is always genuine.
Their sons are, well, great guys. It’s hard to see people you like suffer defeat, especially after putting so much of themselves into the effort.
Politics can be brutal. But I know we haven’t heard the last from Mitt Romney, he’ll bounce back. He’s that kind of guy.