Will President Romney Chart a Moderate Course?

I raised my eyebrows a little when I saw this story from Politico’s Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin on how Mitt Romney would conduct the first months of his presidency:

Top Romney aides say they have studied the opening months and moves by President George W. Bush and President Obama, and are building a government designed to avoid their mistakes. Shortly after the Nov. 6 election, for instance, a President-elect Romney would begin reaching out to House and Senate Democrats for discussions about challenges facing the economy as the opening step in trying to figure out a grand bargain.

It’s worth taking a quick look at the actual history of the Obama administration. Team Obama sought Republican input and support for the stimulus, and congressional Republicans denied it, as part of a deliberate strategy articulated by GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor. As Michael Grunwald details in The New New Deal, the GOP had become the “Party of No,” and they were going to stand in opposition to all Obama policies, regardless of whether they contained Republican ideas or not.

If Romney is able to find Democratic cooperation for his first term agenda, it won’t be because he is somehow “more bipartisan” than Obama; it will be because he is able to capitalize on the ideological diversity of the Democratic caucus. For every liberal like Chuck Schumer, there is a moderate like Claire McCaskill, who is willing to work with Republicans to further their priorities. This was the case at the beginning of the Bush administration, and I expect it to be true at the beginning of a Romney administration.

There’s one other thing in the piece worth expressing skepticism over:

One Republican official said Romney doesn’t plan “an ideological crusade - he wants to come across as a problem solver, primarily on the economic side ... Everything Romney does is going to be focused on bringing down barriers to economic growth and providing certainty to businesses.”

This is incredibly vague. “Bringing down barriers to economic growth” could refer to everything from trade policy to the GOP’s standard proscription of tax cuts and deregulation. My money is on the latter. From Paul Ryan down, a Romney administration would be stocked with conservative ideologues, to say nothing of the House Republicans—who inaugurated this right-wing crusade—or the new batch of conservative Senators that will take their seats in January. Given Romney’s commitment to the full Republican agenda, and the restlessness of conservative activists, my guess is that Romney will have no choice but to push the ideological priorities of the GOP.

To believe otherwise requires you to dismiss everything Romney has said and done over the last two years, in favor of some vague sense that Romney is “really” a moderate.

I’m sticking with what we know, and what we know is that Republican presidents almost always govern like Republicans.