No one will refer to him by his code name, Javelin.
Mitt Romney for six years pursued a singular goal, fervently seeking to fulfill a dream his father, too, once held: winning the presidency.
On Wednesday, for perhaps the first time since 2006 when he sat down with his longtime advisers to sketch out his first presidential run, he had to face the reality that it wasn’t meant to be.
His Secret Service protection is now gone, and there is no longer use for the code name he chose after a car once made by his father’s company. There is no more campaign plane, no daily schedules to follow, no battery of aides making sure he has the peanut butter and honey to make his beloved sandwich.
Instead, some Republicans speculate he’ll return to being an outcast in his own party and could relocate to the West Coast to start anew without the harsh glare of the national political spotlight.
By the end of his campaign, Romney seemed to have a sense of peace about the type of race he had run. But the man who loves data also has to accept that he was rejected by young voters, by minorities of every kind, and even by his home town of Belmont and his home state of Massachusetts.
By the time he addressed his supporters on Tuesday night—in a massive convention hall that opened when he was governor, in the same building where he staged the national call day for his first campaign—the crowd had thinned. They chanted “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” and attempted to sing “God Bless America.” But it was lackluster and half-hearted. Some donors, who were vital to making sure his campaign was flush with cash, had left the convention hall when the result had become clear.
The country had moved on, and not in the direction they had hoped.
Aides and advisers—some of whom had been helping Romney pursue the presidency from the beginning—had filed into the ballroom, their eyes were red and their faces were long. Bob White, who Romney has called his “wingman,” gave hugs. Ron Kaufman, a longtime adviser, wrapped his arms around those standing with him. One man openly wept.
At 3:35 a.m., Romney’s finance chairman sent an e-mail to a group of top donors. Romney, he wrote, wanted to join them for brunch seven hours later at the InterContinental Hotel’s Rose Ballroom. Romney told the room that he was proud, that they “left everything on the field.” He got emotional as he talked about the staff.
“He expressed regret – not so much that he didn’t win, but that he didn’t fulfill what people in the room wanted to achieve; almost like he let us down,” said Mark DeMoss, a top adviser who was also involved in Romney’s 2008 campaign.
“For a lot of people, if your life had been a quest for the White House and you failed, it would be devastating,” DeMoss added. “My sense for him is that this will be very disappointing, but never devastating.”
It is unclear what Romney, 65, will do next, but those close to him expect it could be non-profit work, becoming more active in the Mormon Church, or, for the time being, becoming a full-time grandfather.
But even his supporters don’t anticipate any political future. The post-campaign repercussions are already targeting some of Romney’s longtime Boston-based aides, which could alienate him from the Washington power brokers who never fully embraced him.
“I think he just fades,” said one top donor who has been close to Romney for years and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t see him doing anything in Washington. Maybe some advisory stuff, speeches now and then. But I think we’ve seen, for the most part, the last of Mitt Romney.”
Romney’s wife, Ann, has rejected any return to politics. “Absolutely he will not run again,’’ she said on ABC’s “The View’’ a few weeks ago when asked what would happen if her husband lost.
One supporter Wednesday said that the Romneys would likely move to La Jolla, Calif. They had been trying to renovate their home but put it on hold during the intensity of the race.
“He’s basically a very positive person. He has a lot of energy, a lot of desire to help,” said John Wright, a longtime family friend. “He’s too young to sit on the sidelines. He’ll find something useful to do with his time and his life.”
Some of his supporters were also distraught about how Romney’s campaign was run – and that it seemed to be outmaneuvered by Obama’s tight focus on data collection, targeting voters, and getting them to the polls. It was all the more striking that for a candidate who relishes data, his campaigned failed to utilize the expertise.
“I got to think that he’s a little bit frustrated and angry today. He was not served as well as he could have been served,” said the donor. “When you peel back the onion on the Obama operation and you look at the Romney operation, you had a 21st century campaign running against a 20th century campaign.”
By midafternoon, some Romney aides gathered at a bar across the street from the campaign’s North End headquarters, drinking beer and swapping stories. “It [stinks] over there,” one aide said, motioning across the street.
Maps were still visible in the windows, showing such battleground states as Colorado and Florida. Romney himself arrived just after 4 p.m., entered a room on the lower level.
“Born Free,” the Kid Rock song that greeted Romney at each event for much of his campaign, played on the speakers.
Several hours after he arrived, he came out into the pouring rain and whipping wind. The man known to the Secret Service as Javelin got into a silver Saab driven by his oldest son, Tagg. His wife sat in the front seat, Romney in the back, and he was expected to sleep at his home in Belmont.