Yesterday, I did an online debate with Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, for New York magazine. We went through a wide range of topics, but one thing we stuck on—for a while—was the issue of Mitt Romney’s political commitments. Bissinger refused to believe that Romney is the conservative he’s campaigned as for the last 18 months, and he insisted Romney would be more moderate than he’s appeared if elected president. Here’s the nut of his argument:
[T]ake a look at Romney’s record as Mass governor. He was not some crazoid conservative. He crossed party lines. He provided the template for Obamacare, for God’s sake.
Romney has at least shown some ability to cross lines, however weak. Obama has not. He is not politically adept. He is not good at crossing the aisle. I can only go on what I have read, but he does not like politics and all the gab and bullshit. Politics is gab and bullshit. So I think Romney has a much better chance of appealing to Dems than Obama will ever have appealing to Rs.
One thing I’ve noticed in defenses of Romney is this idea that we should trust that he’s lying to his conservative supporters, and will be more moderate once in office. This view was recently pushed by Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, who wrote an entire column asserting that Romney has no intention of following through on any of his promises.
Since Romney is a chameleon—and happy to switch positions for electoral gain—I can see why some would look at him and assume that he doesn’t plan to carry out his stated plans if elected president. But there are two things worth remembering: First, that presidents almost always attempt to fulfill their campaign promises. Americans like to believe otherwise, but the truth is that the first-term agenda of most presidents mirrors their rhetoric during the campaign. Barack Obama promised middle-class tax cuts and health-care reform, and he delivered. Tax cuts and education reform formed the basis for George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000, and were the first items on his agenda in 2001. Mitt Romney has promised large, across-the-board tax cuts, increased military spending, and cuts to social services. Most likely, that’s what he’ll do.
One last thing: All of this is to say nothing of congressional Republicans, who are committed to following through on the right-wing budgets they passed last year. If Romney wins the White House, one of their own—Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan—will be second-in-command, and it’s absurd to think that they won’t want him to make a push for implementing the Ryan budget. Indeed, as long as they control the Senate, Republicans will be able to pass the Ryan budget without a single Democratic vote. And if they don’t? As Bush demonstrated in his first term, it’s not hard to find a few vulnerable Democrats who will support your priorities for the sake of electoral safety.