Had Mitt Romney's quest for the White House been successful, the "once-in-a-generation" opportunity to put the nation back on solid economic footing would not be lost, he said Sunday.
The failed Republican presidential nominee broke four months of silence and re-emerged for a wide-ranging interview on "Fox News Sunday," a session in which he pulled few punches and ripped into his former rival, President Obama, for failing to lead on the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
"The president has the opportunity to lead the nation. There should be a deal done here, and it should be not be just solving the short-term sequester issue but dealing with the long-term fiscal challenges that America has," Mr. Romney said. "This is an opportunity. I look at the sequester ... as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for America to solve its fiscal problems. It's being squandered by politics."
He added that "Nero is fiddling" as that opportunity flashes by, a dig at Mr. Obama's campaign-style events and frequent bashing of Republicans.
"This is America we're talking about, at a critical time," he said.
The sit-down with Fox host Chris Wallace, taped Thursday, is the first step in Mr. Romney's return to the political scene. He appeared relaxed and happy, and laughed often throughout the interview — a far cry from the stiff caricature portrayed by critics throughout his presidential campaign.
As he returns to the political scene, his expectations are tempered and realistic. He is well-aware that many in the party, particularly those on the far right, aren't his biggest fans and may not be interested in listening to what he has to say.
Many pundits and Republican politicians still blame him for Mr. Obama's victory. They believe the November election was there for Republicans' taking, only to have it slip away because of Mr. Romney's poor conservative credentials and unfortunate gaffes, such as his "47 percent" comment.
The former Massachusetts governor is shrugging off those criticisms. He will address the Conservative Political Action Conference this month and believes that, whatever folks say about him privately, he can be a force for good within the Republican Party and can contribute to the nation's future.
"I recognize that I lost, so I'm not going to be the leader of the Republican Party," Mr. Romney said. "Other people will take that mantle. But I want to have influence. I still care. I still believe there are principles we need to stand for. ... I wish I were there. It kills me not to be there in the White House doing what needs to be done."
Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, also opened up about their election night experience. Having run for president in the 2008 cycle, Mr. Romney had been eyeing the White House for more than five years. Despite his optimism, it came to an end Nov. 6.
"We were convinced we would win. ... We knew the energy and passion was with our voters. My heart said we were going to win," he said, adding that it was a "slow recognition" that he and vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan would come out on the losing end.
Mrs. Romney said she wept when it became clear that her husband wouldn't win, a realization that dawned on the couple when exit polls and early returns in Florida and Ohio did not show the performance the Romney ticket needed.
They were also blunt in offering an autopsy of the Romney/Ryan ticket.
"I think they had a better ground game," Mrs. Romney said, comparing the Democrats' grass-roots organization and get-out-the-vote effort to that of the GOP.
Mr. Romney acknowledged that his campaign didn't succeed in connecting with minority voters, and he said he underestimated the appeal of "Obamacare" to low-income voters.
Although he appeared willing to critique his campaign, Mr. Romney made clear that the "roller-coaster ride" is over.
He will not embark on a third presidential run and said he has moved on from the disappointment.
"I don't spend my life looking back," he said.
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