Allergic to issues, obsessed with personality, and unwilling to confront the reality of Republican radicalism, most members of the mainstream media have focused their coverage of the GOP presidential nominee on a single banal inquiry: “Who is Mitt Romney?”
Allow me to clear this one up: it doesn’t much matter.
Befitting a Republican who sought statewide office in navy-blue Massachusetts, Mitt Romney spent most of his political life, in the words of The New Yorker’s Louis Menand, as “a liberal Republican cryogenically preserved from the pre-Reagan era.” Back in Massachusetts, Romney believed that “abortion should be safe and legal in this country” and pledged to “sustain and support” Roe v. Wade. He promised not to “line up with the NRA” and proudly boasted of the state’s “tough gun laws.” He refused to sign Grover Norquist’s “no tax” pledge as governor and termed it an example of “government by gimmickry.” He endorsed equal rights for gays, a generous immigration policy and, most famously, instituted universal healthcare for the state’s citizens based on an insurance mandate.
That fellow is as difficult to locate today, however, as the balance of a Cayman Islands bank account. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney opposes pretty much everything that Republican Senate candidate and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ever said and did. Even so, countless journalists (and perhaps not a few undecided voters) have been racking their brains trying to decide whether President Romney might revert to that nice liberal Republican who occupied his body until 2005 or so. Many conservatives apparently fear the same.
But that Mitt Romney passed into history together with that “maverick” media hero, John McCain (remember him?), and for much the same reasons. All successful statesmen must be able to demonstrate flexibility in making pragmatic political calculations, but Romney appears to do little else. Even the non-maverick-y McCain, circa 2008, defended Barack Obama when his more rabid supporters attacked the president’s patriotism, birthplace or religion. Romney, however, offers his silent assent under the same circumstances. So while the Tea Party amateurs—the naïve and frequently ill-informed pawns of wealthy corporate funders like the Koch brothers and their ilk who served as foot soldiers for the lunatic candidacies of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich—may have pined for a more “authentic” conservative than Romney, the pros always knew better. As Norquist himself explained, “We just need a president who can sign the legislation that the Republican House and Senate pass. We don’t need someone to think. We need someone with enough digits on one hand to hold a pen.”
In a Romney White House, those digits may go limp with fatigue. A Romney victory would likely bring with it a large majority in the House and quite possibly a Republican Senate as well, and hence a tsunami of regressive legislation. As the longtime nonpartisan analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein argue, a Republican victory in November will likely prove a key turning point in modern American history. It will offer Republicans the opportunity, in Mann’s words, to put “in place a radical view of policy that goes well beyond anything Republicans have proposed in the past,” one that has moved so far rightward that “no Republican president in the modern era would have felt comfortable being a part of [it].” What’s more, they will likely succeed owing not only to Romney’s eagerness to blow with whatever winds may be buffeting him, but also, as Mann and Ornstein put it, to his party’s “demonstrated willingness to bend, break, or change legislative rules and customs that have stood in the way of radical change in the past.”