Former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney will emerge from the political wilderness Thursday to join the man who vanquished him, President Obama, for a private lunch at the White House.

The event marks the first time the pair has met since their bitter battle for the presidency. Since his humbling defeat, Romney has stayed largely out of the limelight and spent time with his family.

For much of the campaign, Obama portrayed Romney as an out-of-touch, corporate raider who cared more about protecting the wealthy than the middle class. But the White House struck a decidedly different tone Wednesday, when spokesman Jay Carney called Romney a "successful businessman" with "many strengths."

Unlike previous meetings between a recently elected president and his rival, the lunch in the White House dining room will remain closed to the press.

The White House released no agenda for the meeting, saying it was part of a quadrennial tradition meant to foster a spirit of cooperation in Washington.

Some analysts said the gathering was mostly symbolic.

Don't expect any substantive outcome. It's meant to blow an air of good sportsmanship around the "fiscal cliff" negotiations," said Jamie Chandler, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York City. "The meeting may focus on Romney's moderate 2011 tax cutting proposals. But it will not be a therapy session dealing with their mutual enmity."

Like many vanquished presidential contenders, Romney has kept a low profile since his defeat, though he roiled the political waters recently when in a conference call with his supporters he claimed that Obama won because he gave "gifts" to women and minorities. Republicans like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that such language did not mesh with the GOP's attempts to appeal to younger and minority voters.

Despite the newfound friendliness, the White House said the meal hardly portends a larger Romney role in the Obama administration.

"The president does not have a specific assignment for Gov. Romney," Carney said jokingly in response to questions about a possible Cabinet post for the former Massachusetts governor.

Romney will also meet Thursday with his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a former campaign aide said.