Mitt Romney will join President Obama for a private lunch on Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney announced Wednesday. While Obama aides didn't release any details on the luncheon's agenda, the president offered some hints in the first news conference he gave after defeating Romney and winning re-election three weeks ago. At the time, Obama suggested that he would welcome Romney's input on how to address some of the nation's most pressing problems: "There are certain aspects of Gov. Romney's record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful." Many in Washington have dismissed the upcoming lunch as a feel-good PR move, but others say the event can benefit both politicians, and even the nation. Here, three reasons this bipartisan lunch is a good idea:
1. Romney could help ease Washington gridlock
It's easy to make jokes about what's likely to be an awkward meal, says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast, but this lunch "could conceivably be a good thing." Despite his loss, Romney remains "one of the country's best-known Republicans," and has "more juice with the broader public than Mitch McConnell or John Boehner." The former Massachusetts governor and two-time failed presidential candidate no longer has to play to the conservative base, so he can "play a moderating role" in the GOP, if he chooses. He could start by making nice with Obama and "telling Republicans, 'Hey, gang, let's drop the unceasing obstinacy.'" Whether they'll listen is another matter.
2. Obama can show he really wants to work with Republicans
"It behooves Obama to be gracious" after his big election win, says Peter Grier at The Christian Science Monitor. "With large margins of Americans telling pollsters they want Democrats and Republicans to work together, the lunch offer is a big flashing light of a signal that Obama intends to do just that." Or at least look like he's doing so. This is a golden opportunity for Obama to "set a tone of civil discourse" that could help him face the daunting challenges ahead, starting with negotiations on a deficit-reduction deal needed to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of painful tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled for Jan. 1. Romney can do the same thing for Republicans by publicly setting aside partisanship — polishing up their brand, and his own (especially after his remark that Obama beat him by buying votes with "gifts").
3. This helps Romney stay relevant
Romney might be leery — Richard Nixon was hesitant to accept an invitation from John F. Kennedy after losing the 1960 election to his Democratic rival, says Tom McCarthy at Britain's Guardian. Former President Herbert Hoover contacted Nixon at the request of Joseph Kennedy, the president's father. According to Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, authors of The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity, Nixon resisted taking part in what he dismissed as "a cheap publicity stunt," but Hoover reminded him that Kennedy, who had just been elected president, wasn't the one who needed help drumming up publicity. "This is a generous gesture on his part," Hoover reportedly told Nixon, "and you ought to meet it." The same holds true for Romney. Who knows, says David A. Graham at The Atlantic, Romney might even come out of this with a job. Obama "could make a bipartisan gesture by appointing Romney to be commerce secretary, treasury secretary, or the first to fill a 'business secretary' [slot] that Obama offhandedly suggested late in the campaign."