Mitt Romney Isn't Done Proving Why He's Not President

The long game: Romney's prospects may improve by the fall. (National Journal)

Meet the new Mitt Romney, same as the old Mitt Romney.

In his first television appearance since losing the presidential election, the 2012 GOP nominee sat down with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday and reminded viewers of his myriad political flaws. Even with several months of personal reflection and time out of the punishing limelight, Romney showed he still didn't speak the language of a changing America that rendered him unable to compete with younger voters and minorities, particularly the fast-growing Hispanic population.

Romney didn't apologize for his belief that illegal immigrants shouldn't be given a pathway to citizenship, a position that even conservative Republicans have been backing away from since the election. He found it uncomfortable to address the famed "47 percent" comment he made, still unable to point to his myriad charitable works to fend off the Obama campaign's attacks that he was a heartless plutocrat. ("My whole life has been devoted to helping people, all of the people. I care about all the people of the country," Romney awkwardly offered in the interview.)

And when talking about the nation's changing demography, he referred to white voters as the "majority population" and Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans as "minority populations." It demonstrated his tone deafness--that, even when accurately diagnosing his campaign's problems, he lacked the verbal fluency to relate to them. He contended that President Obama's health care law was a winning issue to woo Hispanics--a view that Romneyworld veterans are belatedly advancing--but hardly explains why his campaign did so little to persuade them otherwise during the campaign.

Republicans are undergoing a painful soul-searching over how to retool the party's message in the wake of their 2012 drubbing, but Romney's interview is a reminder that style plays as much of a role in victory as substance. Republicans boast a deep bench of young, diverse statewide officeholders, many with compelling personal biographies that would be well suited to advance a 2016 presidential message centered on opportunity. For Democrats, it's Hillary Rodham Clinton or bust. If the economy is still sputtering along as Obama's second term closes, Republicans should like their chances with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida against, say, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, one of the Democrats' leading "not-Hillary" presidential contenders. O'Malley has got the charisma of Romney, with a middling 49 percent job-approval rating in one of the country's most Democratic states.

Romney is returning to the public stage at next week's Conservative Political Action Conference, where he plans to thank his supporters. He'll probably get a polite but unenthusiastic reception from the conservative activists in attendance. But that's nothing new for Romney, a well-respected, talented manager who found himself caught behind the times in a presidential arena that looked nothing like what he expected.