SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney talked privately for an hour Thursday with President Barack Obama over lunch at the White House, a meeting seen as more symbolic than substantive.
“To break bread together is a good visual for all the world to see. It's symbolically important,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a key Romney surrogate in the 2012 presidential race.
Still, attending the traditional post-election meeting may not have been easy for Romney, Chaffetz said, calling him magnanimous for agreeing to tour the office he had hoped to occupy.
“It's exceptionally difficult, I'm sure, for Mitt Romney. But he's a real gentleman,” the congressman said. "You swallow your personal pride and do what's right, even if it's just a photo op.”
The former campaign foes shared a menu that included white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad while discussing the importance of maintaining America's leadership in the world, according to a news release from the White House.
Both men pledged to stay in touch, “particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future,” the release stated.
The White House press secretary said there were no plans to offer Romney a job with the administration. Chaffetz said that would have been inappropriate to expect.
“Mitt Romney doesn't need a job. I think Mitt Romney had a lot to offer our nation, and I think we're worse for not having him as the president,” he said. “But there shouldn't be any sour grapes. We had an election, and now it's time to get over it and move on.”
Utah advertising executive Tom Love said the lunch was good PR for both Obama and Romney.
“I thought it was great of Obama to invite him and great for Mitt to go,” Love said, especially after the thrashing Romney has taken from fellow Republicans over his post-election comments about Obama winning because of “gifts” given to voter groups.
“He had an unnecessary bruising in the public eye after his defeat,” Love said. “Nobody wants that. We don't want to pile on. We want it to be classy and his ideas that are valid to live on, and not for him to be so quickly dismissed and kicked to the curb.”
Chaffetz said the lunch likely marks the end of Romney's public appearances, at least for a while. Romney was photographed arriving and leaving the White House but did not speak to reporters.
“Now Mitt Romney returns to private life. I'm sure he'll have lots of contributions to his family and church, and will speak out from time to time,” Chaffetz said.
Romney reportedly will share office space with Tagg Romney, one of his five sons, and Spencer Zwick, his former assistant at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, at the Boston-based venture capital firm they founded.
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said he didn't know what Romney would do next.
“A normal person would just have to rest and kind of go into hiding. Romney is the most resilient person I've ever met,” Jowers said. “It wouldn't surprise me to see him jump full bore back into life.”
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