Jamelle's hot-off-the-presses cover story on how Romney will govern as a hardcore right-winger irrespective of what he "really" thinks is a must-read. And what's even worse is that this lesson applies beyond budget policy. To address one particularly important point, consider the Supreme Court.
As of 2013, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be an 80-year-old cancer survivor. Stephen Breyer will be 74. Anthony Kennedy will be 76. Replacing even one of these judges with an Alito-style reactionary would have a huge impact on the development of American law that only start with the explicit or implicit overruling of Roe v. Wade, and a Romney who served two terms would probably be able replace all three. Even one term of Romney would probably result in a Supreme Court in which Antonin Scalia—at least until he's replaced with a much younger and even more conservative justice—would have to turn to his right to see the median vote. Trying to downplay the possibility of Romney fixing an ultra-right-wing majority on the Supreme Court for decades, some pundits will inevitably talk not only about Romney's mythical secret moderation, but also about the unpredictability of Supreme Court justices. Expect, in particular, to hear a lot about how Republicans appointed David Souter and Earl Warren and William Brennan.
But these examples are irrelevant to how a contemporary Republican would choose justices. The fact is, judges selected for ideological reasons are extremely predictable. Judges that "disappointed" the presidents who appointed them were inevatably chosen for political rather than ideological reasons. Eisenhower selected Warren (who was able to run for governor of California on the Democratic as well as Republican line) because he made him a promise to help secure the nomination, and he nominated Brennan (a liberal Democrat) to appeal to the Roman Catholic vote. Reagan selected two relatively moderate judges, but O'Connor was nominated to fulfill a campaign promise to put the first woman on the Supreme Court, and Kennedy was Reagan's third choice (as was Harry Blackmun, a Nixon appointee who authored Roe v. Wade and became quite liberal across the board in his later years on the bench.)
Admittedly, George H.W. Bush probably didn't expect Souter to be as liberal as he was, but the Souter pick ensured that there will never be another one like him. George W. Bush—who was much more trusted by the conservative base that Romney will be—faced an unprecedented revolt from his own party when he nominated Harriet Miers and was forced to withdraw the pick and go with Alito, who had an extensive paper trail proving that he was a down-the-line reactionary (And Miers—who after all was a Texas Republican rather than a New England one—probably wouldn't have been another Souter either). Romney won't be allowed to nominate another Kennedy, let alone another Souter. And, of course, the way Romney will govern with respect to Supreme Court appointments will apply to other appointments as well. From lifetime appointments to federal circuit to cabinet positions to regulatory agencies, key positions will be stocked with wingnuts who will ensure that many of the progressive laws that survive a Romney administration will not be properly enforced. Whether Romney is a secret moderate or not—and there's not actually any evidence that he is—a Romney presidency would have long-term effects that will cause the Reagan administration to look trivial by comparison.