Will Mitt Romney be the first Tea Party President?
E.D. thinks that, contrary to what many fear, a President Romney would not be a puppet on so many Tea Party Congressman’s strings:
Why would Romney, unlike virtually every other president in recent history, govern for the base rather than the center? Obama moved to the center when he took office. Aside from his foreign policy, so did George W. Bush. Clinton was a centrist democrat, and Reagan and George H.W. Bush were both centrist Republicans.
Everyone campaigns to the right or left of where they actually end up governing. And why shouldn’t they? All the incentives that exist in a primary disappear in the general election, and disappear further once a candidate takes office.
Romney would have to work with Democrats, appease independents, and he’d have plenty of centrists from both parties to assist him. There is this myth in American politics that because the rhetoric is extreme, the governing must also be extreme. But actual legislation is determined by the center, not the fringes – at least most of the time. And the center is exactly where Romney is most at home.
I’m not sure Erik’s history is top-notch here (specifically, I don’t think Reagan could be considered centrist in any context other than our current one), but his overall point is fundamentally sound. The supposedly irresistible pull of the center is what one learns in any Intro to US Government 101. Where Erik may go wrong, though, is a bit wrapped-up with the error of calling Reagan a centrist; if one assumes a President Romney will govern to the center — and that this should be cause for relief for those among us less than smitten with American for Prosperity — one is implicitly also assuming that the center is stationary, at least in the short-term.
I don’t think that’s true, at least not right now. Instead of the relative calm and placidity that’s been a hallmark of American politics in general, and especially in the post-War period, I believe we’re now ensconced in a much more volatile status quo. Largely born from economic distress and a yawning gap in equality, the US electorate is right now in a very feisty mood, more than capable of swinging from one presumed extreme to the other. Look at 2008, for example, and then look at 2010. It was almost as if two different countries existed on the same plot of land, agreeing to hold their elections at different intervals so as to keep everyone from getting too confused. And, indeed, to a significant degree, two — at least! — different countries do exist on this same vast piece of land: here’s just one representative example.
What I’m proposing here isn’t the Overton Window theory — it’s not that the center shifts from one side to the other, depending on who has the better talking points or whatever. I’m loath to roll out a cutesy pundit-speak, so I’ll simply emphasize that it’s more like we switch between different windows entirely rather than move from one side to the other. The risk, therefore, is that Romney is elected on a Tea Party wave that further bolsters their numbers in the Congress. If that’s the case, we’ve ample evidence to show not only that the Tea Party types care not too much at all about public opinion (see: debt limit fiasco), but that Mitt Romney cares just about as much about what anyone not holding the reins of power wants.
I don’t think that scenario is very likely at all, which means I don’t imagine President Romney will be our new RedState overlord. But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen! Things that never happen never happen — until they do.