So the boring thing that everyone predicted would happen happened and Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for president in 2012. Along the way, however, Romney has proven himself an almost uniquely terrible candidate from every angle, hewing to the economic and anti-scientific malarkey of the current Republican Partywhile also reversing himself on basically every position he has ever held as an adult, including his signature accomplishment as Massachusetts governor, mandated health insurance to achieve universal coverage.
He’s the multi-millionaire son of a multi-millionaire whose main economic proposal involves plundering the Treasury to pay for more tax cuts for multi-millionaires. He’s managed to come off as preposterously out-of-touch while also endorsing draconian ideas about everything from contraception to immigration.
Still, he’s the guy, which means it’s time to play political prognosticator and game out the three possible scenarios for his candidacy.
Romney Wins Big
The most unlikely scenario would be that Romney wins and the Republicans maintain control of the house and get a veto-proof majority in the Senate. If you’re looking for Armageddon scenarios, this is it. The Washington Monthly ran a series of columns from policy experts explaining what a disaster this would be for everything from the environment to foreign relations to the ossified court system. The Supreme Court, particularly, would be locked into a right-wing majority for another generation. Romney would largely find himself beholden to the loudest cranks and weirdos in his party and under unrelenting pressure from the far-right to enact its agenda. It might not even matter what Romney wanted to do as president because the Tea Party that already distrusts him would be driving the bus.
Romney Wins Barely
Should he win, it will most likely be by a sliver and much will depend on what the House and the Senate look like. This then presents two interesting sub-possibilities.
The first is that Romney will attempt to ram through the far-right agenda he’s espousing on the campaign trail, Democrats will filibuster, grind the legislative process to a halt (sounds familiar), and try to wait until 2014 to inevitably crawl back into power. I view this one as far more likely than the next.
The second, however, is that Romney has merely been parroting right-wing talking points to win a tough primary and he remains a relatively moderate problem-solving technocrat. This could actually lead him to look to Democrats rather than his own party and seek a kind of “grand bargain” like the one Obama sought with John Boenher on issues ranging from the deficit to taxes to carbon pricing. The dirty secret of American politics is that there are plenty of smart, middle-of-the-road solutions to our troubles that have been carpet-bombed into oblivion by right-wing media and a zero-sum obstructionist party line. This is probably the one scenario where Mitt Romney, despite all evidence about his character from the current campaign, could turn out to be one of the most effective presidents in American history.
Obviously, I think this is the most likely scenario for all the reasons I listed above. Furthermore, demographically the math just isn’t on his side. The country is becoming younger and less white, the Republican Party’s only demographic of group of any strength. Women find him abhorrent. In order to win, Romney will pretty much have to run the table in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and maybe knock off Obama in a state like Michigan. He’s facing the best fundraising candidate ever, and his message is almost entirely predicated on false assumptions, distortions, and misleading characterizations of what Obama has and hasn’t done in office. Furthermore, he is the first Mormon candidate for president and do not underestimate how that could hurt Evangelical turnout in the fall. Finally, whoever he picks for vice-president is going to have to be boring because he can’t afford the same kind of mistake John McCain made with Sarah Palin. His only real assets therefore, appear to be his wife and the five eugenics experiments that are his sons.
The larger concern is what will happen within the Republican Party if he loses. Already, there are loud murmurs, spear-headed by Rick Santorum, that the party has compromised itself by not going with a “true conservative.” If he loses, and Republicans were to lose control of the House in the process, there will be a bloodletting in the party that may even surpass the current crop of ideological purification rituals that have come to characterize it.
This—to put it mildly—would be bad. I am in no way a capital-D Democrat. I just try to vote based on the reality of the world as I see it, and the Republican Party has almost completely lost touch with that reality. On every issue, from Wall Street reform to climate change to tax policy, it basically doesn’t have a foot left on planet earth. It’s core constituencies consist of millionaire plutocrats and scared white people who think that most problems don’t matter because a magic man in the sky is going to bring his son back from the dead to fix everything. If Romney loses, the flight not to conservatism but this miasma of conspiracy theory and cultural resentment will only intensify.