House Republicans to Keep Romney on a Short Leash

Since his first run for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney has never tried to lead the Republican Party in any particular direction. This isn’t hard to understand; as an outsider to the conservative movement, it’s simply too difficult. Instead, to win conservative trust, he acts as a cipher for GOP priorities—they lead, and he follows. Congressional Republicans understand this, and, as The New York Times reports, intend to use it to their advantage:

House Republicans said Mr. Romney could go his own way on smaller issues that may help define him as separate from his Congressional Republican counterparts. But, they said, he must understand that they are driving the policy agenda for the party now. “We’re not a cheerleading squad,” said Representative Jeff Landry, an outspoken freshman from Louisiana. “We’re the conductor. We’re supposed to drive the train.”

They’re “supposed to drive the train” and it’s almost certain that they will. Already, Romney has adopted the Ryan framework for his budget plan, and as a result, the Wisconsin congressman has emerged as a frontrunner for the vice presidential nomination. Romney supports House GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood, and opposed the deal last summer to raise the debt ceiling. There’s wide speculation that he’ll move to the center in the general election, but the evidence points to a Romney campaign that highlights his conservatism and keeps it at the forefront. When coupled with a distrustful conservative movement and an entitled group of congressional Republicans, there’s no reason to think that we’ll see a return to the moderate Romney of yore.

The big question, if there is one, is whether the press will treat Romney as a moderate, despite all information to the contrary. My guess, for now, is that they will. Nevermind the content of his policies—which call for massive cuts to the federal government, for the sake of lower taxes on the wealthy—Romney carries himself as a serious man with serious ideas, and as with Paul Ryan, that’s enough to earn a place in the mainstream.