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Lonely headquarters of the losing presidential candidate, by Mark Shields
WASHINGTON--The next morning after an Election Day defeat, there is no place I know more empty than the headquarters of the losing candidate.
Long gone are the bunting, the balloons, the band, the open bar--and the hopes--of the night before. If the phone does ring, chances are it's a creditor looking for her check. Campaign workers, now jobless and speaking softly, almost as though there's been a death in the family, are busy updating, embellishing and printing their resumes.
In a hundred different places, members of the losing candidate's party are doing their own individual postmortems of the defeat. And miraculously, those party folks invariably somehow all reach the same conclusion. The identical reaction is happening again in the wake of Republican challenger Mitt Romney's loss to Democratic incumbent Barack Obama.
Because a political party is a human institution, and because most of us humans will go to great lengths to avoid rejection, the first stage for explaining the defeat is to look outside of ourselves and to Blame the Losing Candidate.
This time, it was, of course, Mitt Romney's fault. He was, we are told, too stiff, unnatural, emotionally distant, and uninspiring. Just like four years ago, it had been John McCain's fault (that risky VP pick, remember?). And before that, John Kerry's Nantucket windsurfing had distanced him from ordinary voters, while Al Gore had earlier been so relentlessly unexciting that his Secret Service code name had been "Al Gore."
After all the personality and character defects of the rejected standard-bearer have been stipulated, those on the losing side move directly to the most dangerous spot on the political compass, which I call Find the Gimmick. This is the search for an external factor to explain the party's defeats.
When Franklin Roosevelt won the White House four times, Republicans conveniently discovered the reason: Roosevelt's magical fireside chats to the nation. If the GOP could just find someone as good on radio as FDR, they would be back on top.