WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 29: In this handout from the White House, Former Republican presidential candiate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office following their lunch November 29, 2012 in Washington, DC . Obama had invited Romney to the White House for the lunch. (Photo by Pete Souza/White House Photo via Getty Images)
Updated: January 1, 2013 6:32AM
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A few days after President Barack Obama won the election, his campaign manager, Jim Messina, contacted Matt Rhoades (who ran Mitt Romney’s campaign) to arrange a meeting between the two men.
The result of the outreach — which Messina confirmed he made when I asked him on Thursday — was that Romney arrived at the White House on Thursday to lunch with Obama. He visited with Obama in the Oval Office—which a few weeks ago he though he would occupy on Jan. 21, Inauguration Day.
Over white turkey chili and Southwest grilled chicken, the two dined in the private dining room adjacent to the Oval Office, in a lunch lasting about an hour. Romney congratulated Obama on his win “and wished him well over the coming four years,” the White House said in a statement.
Obama had mentioned in his election night victory speech that he wanted to get together with Romney and brought it up again at a Nov. 14 press conference.
“He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with. And so it’d be interesting to talk to him about something like that,” Obama said then.
As for the lunch conversation, “the focus of their discussion was on America’s leadership in the world and the importance maintaining that leadership position in the future. They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future,” the White House said in a statement.
Romney flew in from his California home. While in Washington, he also met with his former running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It was the first time they have been together since election night in Boston.
I’ve been talking to a variety of people in the Romney orbit — some at a conference I am attending at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, looking at the 2012 campaign — plus others to gain some insight into what Romney may do.
Romney told his staff after he lost his second run for president that he would not seek public office again. Eric Fehrnstrom, who was Romney’s campaign spokesman, told me Thursday, “I’d be surprised if he didn’t stay involved in public service in some way.”
Something may be in the works. Fehrnstrom said he “expected some announcement about his future plans after the first of the year.”
Romney, who has a residence outside Boston, is setting up an office in Solamere Capital, the Boston firm founded by son Tagg and Spencer Zwick, Romney’s national campaign finance chairman.
Romney has told his major donors that he wants to keep his network together. Romney’s fund-raising ability could be enormously helpful to future candidates. He rejoined the Marriott board after his 2008 run; it’s not known yet, his associates told me, if he is ready to get back in the business world.
What is clear, I am told, is that Romney, a youthful 65, is not anywhere close to retiring.
“He is a very resilient person who gets bored very quickly,” an associate said.
While some Republicans are already focused on 2014 and 2016, feeling bruised by Romney’s defeat, John Brabender, who was the senior strategist for Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, told me that Romney “can step into a lot of roles.”
“He is seen as a little bit less political and ideologically driven as some political figures; therefore, I think that makes that transition a little bit easier.
“Certainly there have been criticisms about him and the campaign, but truthfully, I think those are frustrations. I don’t think they are valid, I think they will go away.”