After watching the ten millionth commercial for “The Hatfields and the McCoys,” I got to thinking: Has Bill Clinton forgiven Barack Obama yet? Four years ago, you may recall, the “Man from Hope” was so ticked at Mr. “Hope and Change” that it looked like he’d rather elect Ken Starr to the White House than the man who bested his wife.
We are not supposed to think so anymore, but there can be an honor in grudge-holding. In believing so strongly in something—in Clinton’s case, his wife’s destiny (as well as his own)—that the belief proves all but impossible to surrender. Call him sulking or call him certain, Bill Clinton almost tore his own party in half rather than admit defeat.
The same cannot be said for this year’s crop of Republican losers in the 2012 presidential primary who proved so quick to embrace and cater to Mitt Romney that one wonders why they ran against him in the first place. This week, the ex-governor of Massachusetts continued his Star Trek-ian “We are Borg” tour: assimilating every Republican in his path. (Now up: Sheldon Adelson, the man who spent a reported $10 million against him.) Most likely kind words were exchanged between the two during their private meeting, as they have between Romney and Gov. Jon Huntsman (who hailed Romney, a man he is said to personally detest, for “bold and principled leadership”), Michele Bachmann (calling Romney, the man she once said stood for “big government” and inside-the-beltway corruption, “a man who will preserve the American dream”), and Newt Gingrich (calling the man he said flatly “is not a conservative,” well, “a solid conservative”). Rick Santorum, at least, was more guarded. After calling Romney a liar and socialist during the campaign, Santorum did concede there were “some areas in which we agree.” (This list does not include, presumably, that Romney is a liar or a socialist). Even the one-time Ben Kenobi of grudge-holding, John McCain, went to the airwaves in defense of his one-time rival.
Is this the same party that was so hopelessly divided only a few weeks ago—yes, weeks—that there was open talk of a fight all the way to the convention? It took Hollywood longer to forgive Charlie Sheen.
It’s possible that all of the GOP contenders who are now embracing Romney with such enthusiasm have actually seen the light. That he’s not the corrupt, duplicitous monster and absolutely certain political loser they thought he was only six weeks ago. Possible, but unlikely. (It’s even more unlikely the Governor Romney and his team are so easy to forgive.)
Instead, many of these one-time candidates live in fear of being criticized by the media and current (and future) donors as the kid who “doesn’t work well with others,” is “not a team player” or is, horrors, a “poor sport.” One might have further cause to wonder about the sincerity of these endorsements when, shortly after praising Romney, they announce that Romney will help them pay off their campaign debts. A cynic might deduce that the candidate accused throughout the campaign of buying his endorsements was buying a few more—from the very people who accused him of buying the endorsements of everyone else.
The love affair with Mitt—this newfound nausea of niceness—raises a bigger question: What is to be said to all the Republicans who donated money to the anti-Romney candidates, volunteered their time, and argued with friends and family about the appropriateness of strapping a dog to the top of their car? Were they all chumps? Was this bitter, tough primary just a game? Were any of the vicious invectives thrown at Romney sincere? We don’t all have to be Hatfields and McCoys—even I’m willing to acknowledge that went a little too far—but there’s nothing wrong with standing firm behind your own candidacy and ideas, and staying that way. For an appropriate mourning period, at any rate. Poor Seamus, at least, deserves better.
Anyone remember the good old days, when political battles were hard-fought and losers stayed sore? After Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter’s renomination in 1980, Carter held a grudge for thirty years. Gerald Ford was so ticked at Ronald Reagan after their 1976 primary battle that Ford carried the grudge to his grave, allowing his unkind words about Reagan to slip into a book published after Ford’s death. Not every candidate has to be a jerk about it. When Adlai Stevenson lost—for a second time in a row—to Dwight D. Eisenhower, he quoted Lincoln about the boy who stubbed his toe: “He was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”
I don’t care what anyone says—after Bill votes this November, I’d check the voter rolls of Chappaqua to see if there were any write-ins for “Hillary Clinton.”