The PJ Tatler

Would Romney Really Govern as a Conservative?

Ramesh Ponnuru lays out the case that a President Mitt Romney would govern as a “cautious” conservative. I’ve always kind of assumed that if nominated by the current GOP and elected against the very liberal Barack Obama, Mitt Romney would do just that.

But would he? My assumption may be wrong.

Let’s assume that the GOP holds the House and takes the Senate in 2012 along with the election of Romney. Whether the GOP’s governing majority does a good job or not, whether it has to repeal ObamaCare or SCOTUS has done the job for them, history tells us that the GOP will lose some seats in Congress in the 2014 mid-terms. It’s not really about Congress as much as a reflection of Americans’ ambivalence of handing one president and one party too much power. The party of the president tends to lose seats in mid-terms.

So let’s assume that that happens, and the GOP either loses one (or both) houses narrowly, or just loses enough seats so that the Democrats gain some traction in 2014. Whatever traction the Democrats get also gets a media amplification.

What does a President Romney do with that? What does the pragmatic corporate fix-it man who has run and lost as both a liberal and a conservative, and governed Massachusetts as a left-of-center Republican, do with a Congress in which the Democrats have gained traction in the middle of Romney’s first term? When Republicans drop seats for any reason, the voices of moderation inevitably emerge to tell us that we have to become more “inclusive” by moving left. David Frum makes his living off that schtick.

I’m not sure Romney governs as a cautious conservative in that environment. If I’m right about what’s bugging Romney now, then he governs as a cautious conservative in the first half and a cautious liberal in the second half of his term, and thus sets himself up for defeat in 2016.