What Would Life Be Like Under a President Romney? The First in a Series of Columns Analyzing What Mitt Romney Would Do As President

Posted in: Politics

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is now the presumptive Republican nominee for President.  Having survived the GOP’s circus-like primary process, and won the bare minimum of grudging support (from both voters and party leaders) that is necessary to challenge President Obama, Romney and his campaign are now turning their attention to the general election.

As the campaign becomes a one-on-one affair, one question immediately arises:  How can Romney possibly hope to win?  Although the economy remains weak, which is always a heavy burden for any incumbent to bear, President Obama remains surprisingly popular.  Romney doubtless would like to see the President trailing badly in the polls. Instead, the two are essentially tied even now, before President Obama’s campaign has had the chance to define and attack Romney. That surely says good things for the incumbent’s chances.

Moreover, the Romney campaign is in the difficult position of having inadvertently admitted that it was intending to “shake the Etch-a-Sketch”—a damningly memorable way of saying that Romney had every intention of changing, modifying, or distancing himself from all of the extremist, base-pleasing positions that he took—apparently for cynical reasons—during the last several years.

Of course, everyone knows that general election campaigns focus on different issues than primary campaigns do, but because of Romney’s reputation for opportunistically changing his position on issue after issue, his campaign’s gaffe may well prove to be truly disastrous.  Already under scrutiny as an unprincipled chameleon, Romney is now severely limited in what he can do to woo voters who might, say, believe that Planned Parenthood is a force for good in the world—or even just an acceptable presence in our society.

Stumbling Out of the Gate: Romney’s Failed Effort to Court Women by Blaming President Obama for Teacher Layoffs

Romney’s first foray into full-frontal Obama bashing, moreover, was a disaster.  Realizing that he faces an enormous “gender gap” (perhaps because of his failure to stand up for groups like Planned Parenthood), the former Massachusetts governor decided to try to make it appear that President Obama was responsible not just for a bad economy, but for an economy that was especially bad for women in particular.

As it turned out, however, the factual basis for Romney’s claims was so distorted and misleading as to be laughable.  As I discussed in a recent essay on the Dorf on Law blog, and as various fact-checking organizations have pointed out, Romney was relying on the statistical oddity that women lost jobs later in the recession than men did, with the recession (which began well before Obama took office) ultimately costing many women their jobs.  Because those job losses hit the economy after Obama’s inauguration, the Romney team somehow thought that they could sell people on the idea that President Obama caused the economy to be especially bad for women.

Only a few commentators noted, however, the bigger absurdity in Romney’s claim about job losses among women.  The bulk of those job losses did not occur among women who happened to work in businesses that were harmed in the latter part of the recession.  No, the reason that women have been losing jobs in great numbers since 2009 is that, across the country, schoolteachers are being laid off.  Women make up the clear majority of teachers.  When teachers are laid off, therefore, it hits women more than men.  Here, then, is a disproportionate effect of the recession on women.  But it is an effect that Romney apparently applauds and even wants to intensify.

Romney strongly supports the governors who have attacked schoolteachers.  He also strongly supports the Republicans in Congress who refuse to provide assistance to states and cities, which would save teachers’ jobs. Thus, Romney is in no position to blame Barack Obama for the plight of teachers; indeed, to see one of the culprits for this crisis, Romney need only look in the mirror.

Even more than the Romney campaign’s more recent gaffe regarding the closed drywall factory in Ohio, therefore, the “Blame women’s job losses on Obama” strategy exposed the Romney campaign’s utter cynicism.  For Romney—someone who is correctly perceived as having a complete lack of integrity—this perception of cynicism can only feed on itself.

Overall, therefore, Romney is showing no signs of being able to seize the clear advantages that running against an incumbent in a still-weak economy provide.

Is There a Core Set of Beliefs Guiding Mitt Romney?  The Evidence Suggests That There Is No “There” There

All of this analysis, however, is classic horse-race punditry.  While such analysis is interesting in its own right, the campaign will play out over many months, and the daily news cycle will grind through many more “drywall gaffes” between now and Election Day.  The ultimate question, however, is how Romney would govern if he were actually to win the election.  What should we expect if there is a change of power in the White House in January 2013?

To answer that question, one would normally turn first to the candidate’s campaign promises, his record in elective office, and all of the usual sources for guidance about a candidate’s policy views.  With Mitt Romney, however, the task is much more complicated.  What made his aide’s Etch-a-Sketch comment resonate, after all, was the already-deep suspicion among voters and analysts that Romney was saying anything he needed to say to win the nomination, knowing full well that he planned to say anything he needed to say to win the election—no matter how different his statements needed to be.  When a candidate has already changed positions on many issues multiple times, and has earned the nickname “Will Say Anything,” it is not at all easy to predict what that candidate would actually do in office.

Even so, it is possible to imagine that there is a “True Romney” somewhere, waiting to emerge and govern, after he has said and done what is necessary to become President.  In this view, Romney is trying to become President because he has a clear view of how to govern the country, but he is simply unwilling to share that vision, for fear of alienating voters.

If a True Romney exists, however, we would need to figure out which Romney is the real thing.  Most analysts who have gone down this path have been content to imagine that the views and policies that Romney stood for as governor of Massachusetts represent his true views.  All subsequent flip-flops, under this view, were unfortunate and cynical—but necessary—electoral stratagems.

If this were true, then it would mean that Romney is actually a moderate, especially on social issues.  Accordingly, his recent embrace of the most retrograde, hard-right conservative policy ideas—regarding social, economic, and foreign policy, and immigration issues—might be ugly, but it would also be temporary.  This is exactly why Romney could claim during the primaries to be the most electable candidate. The gist of his message was as follows: ‘No one really believes that I’m as crazy as I’ve sounded during this clown cavalcade, so I can win centrist voters away from Obama.’  But that is a strategy that makes the candidate’s insincerity his core asset.

Even so, large numbers of people appear to believe that the True Romney would be a moderating force against the extremists who have come to dominate his party.  Having somewhat centrist leanings, they believe, would cause Romney to govern somewhat more moderately than any of his primary opponents would have governed, had they been elected.

If Romney Does Win, He Will Not Govern As a Moderate: The Costs of Winning at All Costs in the Modern Republican Party

This notion that we can look to Mitt of Massachusetts as the True Romney is, to a certain degree, a story that progressives seem to be telling each other, in order to make a Romney win seem less scary.  For example, one of my nephews, a recent college graduate, strongly supports President Obama’s re-election, but has also argued passionately that Romney would be a much less scary President—from the perspective of liberals and progressives—than any of Romney’s vanquished primary foes.

Would that it were so.  If anything, there is every reason to believe that a President Romney will govern even more conservatively than he has suggested so far.  Indeed, this seems virtually certain, for two related reasons:

First, no one who wins the Presidency wants to be a one-term President, and Romney’s personal ambition is remarkable, even in a political world where self-regard is a prerequisite for success.  If Romney wishes to be a two-term President, however, he will have to continue to please his base.  And the new reality in Republican politics is that incumbents are no longer given a pass by the extremist base of the party.

Moderate conservatives like Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana are being challenged in primary races, and even rock-solid conservatives like Orrin Hatch are in danger of extinction.  (Hatch’s former Utah colleague, Robert Bennett, lost his party’s nomination in 2010, to be replaced by a truer believer.)  If Romney is to win again, he must, of course, be the nominee again.  A party that could barely stand to nominate the man who passed the prototype of President Obama’s health care plan into law in Massachusetts is not going to give Romney a pass once he is in office.

Second, even if Romney were willing to risk being a one-term President, he would still be under constant pressure from his party.  From Election Night onward, Romney will be under scrutiny for any indication that he is indulging his putative moderate impulses.  The Republican Party’s radical base now controls the party’s apparatus at all levels of government, meaning that people who will become part of a Romney Administration will be nothing but purists.

With staff and appointees vetted and policed by a party apparatus that has now completed assimilated the extreme views that were once thought to be limited only to the Tea Party-infused fringes, Romney would be in no position to moderate his positions.

What Would Congress Do?  Even If Romney Is Elected, and Personally Is Moderate, Extremists Will Still Drive His Presidency

Therefore, if we are to divine what the world would look like under an imagined Romney Administration, the only sensible supposition is that he would propose and attempt to carry out the agenda for which his extremist base fervently hopes.  Thus, even if Romney himself is a moderate—a highly dubious proposition, as is the supposition that Romney believes in anything at all—he would govern as an extreme conservative.

What effect would Congress have on Romney’s efforts?  It is impossible to imagine that the Republicans could win the Presidency while losing their current majority in the House, so we can assume that the extreme radicalism of the past two years would continue into the 113th Congress, at least on the House side of the Capitol.

The Senate is another story.  It is quite imaginable that we could have more than 40 Democrats sitting in the Senate in 2013 and 2014.  Given the playbook that the current Republican minority in the Senate has crafted, we could then be looking at another two years or more of policy stasis.  If Democrats stuck together, they could filibuster nearly everything Republicans proposed.  (Democrats do have a history of crumbling, but I will set aside that possibility here.)

In that situation, the answer to the question, “What would happen under President Romney?” would be: “No major legislation would pass, but the full force of the Executive Branch would be in the hands of a President who is beholden to the most extreme elements of his party.”  (Interested readers might want to read my post today on Dorf on Law, where I discuss some of the possible scenarios that we might see with a divided Congress and a Romney presidency.)

The more interesting question, therefore, is what would happen if the Republicans were to pick up 13 of the Senate seats that are currently held by Democrats, thereby giving them a filibuster-proof majority.  Then, we would have a government with no moderating forces.

In my next column, I will analyze the economic policies that would emerge from such a political alignment.  The short version is: It would not be pretty.  The longer version of that story will, however, have to wait until next time.

The next column in this series will appear here on Justia’s Verdict on May 10.

Posted in: Politics

  • Njja

    More Liberal nonsense. Four more years of Obama will leave us over 20 Trillion in debt with massive unemployment, over 50% of the population on the dole and further disharmony between Americans.

    In stead of worrying about what Romney might do why not focus on what the current administration has not done……..except waste taxpayers money!

  • Petjojen1

    What a “cunning” analysis !!

  • Oversleeping

    What a pleasure to read such an intelligent column and what a frightening world this is becoming.

  • Fmfchief

    Garbage from the left.

    • midway54

      Yes, all of us need to rely on that bastion of truth Fox “News” that stars the uneducated buffoon Hannity who dupes the yahoos into reacting with phrases like “garbage from the left.”

  • Robert Jensen

    A completely slanted, leftist view of things. No attempt at all to be balanced or moderate. Go elsewhere if you want a real analysis.

  • Stephen Howland

    Tendentious crap. I agree with the majority of your points, but try to cloak your opinions with the facts. They’re on our side.

  • Lauro Andrea

    This article says it all about Romney. Even is he seems moderate, he will be run by the more extreme elements of his Party.
    This former venture capitalist made a devil’s pact with the Republican party and now they own his soul.

    • dtownmc

      Just as obama made one with pelosi and reid.. two extreme nutjobs on the democratic side

    • Midway54

      There are plenty of rightwinger signatories to the pact, a requirement to participate as a willing tool of our Gilded Age II Plutocracy complete with modern Robber Barons. We need another fighting Teddy Roosevelt.

  • Anonymous

    I’m looking forward to the campaign.  The longer it goes on, the more Romney will be exposed as a candidate unencumbered by principles or ethics.  I personally will love to see him exposed for the fraud that he is.  Thing is, Obama may not even need ads if the media reports Romney’s attempts to speak to Americans. It seems that he makes gaffes almost daily, the most recent being his sit down with the regular folks when Romney verbally wondered about  the cookies several times and then talked about how he’d give them a pass.  Turns out, they were from a very well known and respected neighborhood bakery.  Way to win the hearts and votes of us commoners.

    • MrBurns

      Seriously, Romney is a fraud.  How about Obama?
      – Pledge to close Gitmo…did not happen
      – Pledge to not have any lobbyist in the WH.  Guess that did not last.- Increased the deficit more than all of the other presidents combined in the promise to get the economy going again….did not happen
      – Shovel ready projects….”I guess there were not shovel ready”
      – Claims to have saved hundreds of thousands of jobs, but cannot say how that number was calculated.
      – Keeps on quoting the current unemployment rate but this rate is only the current requests for unemployment.  A more accurate number would include people who gave up on the job market
      – Claims credit for more oil and gas drilling during his presidency when he had nothing to do with it.  All on state or private land.  Federal permits have actually decreased significantly.
      – Wasted 500 mil on Solyndra who happened to be a major donor.
      – Fast and Furious scandal
      – Pledge to be the most transparent admin.  They are the one of the most closed.
      – Lied publicly about if SCOTUS overturned the health mandate that it would be unprecedented and judicial activism for them to declare it unconstitutional.
      – Healthcare reform would save the country money but now coming out it will cost the public significantly more.
      – Consistently claims that the rich to pay enough in taxes even though top 20% pay 70% of the income taxes.
      – Says that he is an ally of Israel but treats them like garbage.
      – Consistently blames Bush for all failures and takes no responsibility for his policies.

      The list goes on..

    • Anonymous

      Seriously?  Cookies is the election criteria?

  • Anonymous

    Romney will make a good President and will lead the country toward unity and prosperity.  Obama was a disaster and did nothing but divide the country and leave us with a huge debt problem.  Obama is taking us on a path to destruction.    

    • mjimih

      have some more warm milk, ahh feel better now? not so scared anymore? good.

  • Anne

    I believe the purpose of this article is not to predict potential policies of Mitt Romney, should he become president, but rather to characterize conservative values as “extremist”, such as: “[a]nd the new reality in Republican politics is that incumbents are no longer given a pass by the extremist base of the party’ and “so we can assume that the extreme radicalism of the past two years would continue into the 113th Congress”  

    This article is purposed to manipulate, not educate.

  • dtownmc

    Why dont you just come out and say that you are a liberal? I read the whole article and using the word we just told me that you are anything but impartial. So what i just got from this whole article is romney and republicans are bad.. obama and democrats good…. that about sums it up… next time try to balance your obvious political leanings.

  • Anonymous

    Whether there’s a “true” Romney misses the point.  If there is, the inescapable conclusion is that he’s a man who will violate his “beliefs” if he thinks it’s in his interest.  He’s like a guy who says, “I really truly believe in honesty,” and then steals money.  You know someone’s priorities by their actions, and Romney’s actions have been to repudiate everything moderate and pander to the far right.  If it looks like a panderer with no values and walks like a panderer with no values….

  • Anonymous

    This article is pure conjecture and assumption.  There is nothing to suggest Romney will not be a center-right moderate.  You can’t have it both ways – call him an etch-a-sketch candidate who will abandon his conservative primary positions and also claim he will hold to them. 

    Romney is a pragmatist, center-right guy, just like Obama pretended to be.  This time we want what we are promised, and Romney knows he can lead best as the moderate he is.  He will be good.

  • Joshua

    Why is this presented as “legal analysis and commentary”?  It is pure political polemics.  It belongs on the New York Times editorial page, where I’m sure it would be welcomed.

  • Hahn Mary

    Thank you for writing this. I look forward to more posts here.

  • Clearview

    Liberal tripe.  This is to be expected from a college professor, so no surprise.  Move along nothing more to see here…