What You See Is What You Get

In my cover story for this month’s issue of the Prospect, I argued that it’s silly to expect moderation from Mitt Romney if he’s elected president. The former Massachusetts governor ran as a “severely” conservative politician in the Republican primaries, his policies are drawn from the right-wing social engineering of Paul Ryan, and in all likelihood, he’ll govern on those terms. Over at The Washington Post, centrist extraordinaire Richard Cohen has, surprisingly, come to the same conclusion:

It’s hardly conceivable that, as president, Romney will become the Romney some think he is. The forces that shaped him in the primaries and caucuses will not go away. He has been clay in the hands of the political right, and this will not change. […]

The widespread belief that Romney would govern from the center is supposedly supported by the equally widespread belief that he is a liar. I hear this all the time: Never mind what Romney said in the primaries, he is a moderate Republican. These people point to Romney’s record as the moderate governor of liberal Massachusetts — even though he has renounced his moderation, as if it was an unaccountable episode of mental instability.

You should read this in dialogue with the most recent column from David Brooks, who (rightfully) defends private equity and then presents Mitt Romney as someone who will bring the dynamism of business to government. Like the Democrats Cohen excoriates, Brooks assumes that the “real Romney” is a moderate technocrat from Massachusetts, despite the half-decade Romney spent running away from his legacy in the Bay State.

The simple fact about a presidential election is that you aren’t voting for a person as much as you’re empowering a party to implement its agenda. The Republican Party is running on an explicit return to the policies of the Bush administration, and there’s no reason to think that Romney would somehow abandon that agenda if he reached the White House.