During the course of what feels like the longest presidential campaign in history, Mitt Romney has become a world-renowned flip-flopper. The Daily Show and the Democratic National Convention alike have compiled montage after montage of Romney disagreeing with himself – sometimes in as little as three hours. Romney’s trademark has become his willingness to take on whatever position is popular, and then immediately distance himself from it. Even Romney’s campaign manager referred to the candidate’s strategy as an “Etch-a-Sketch” campaign.
Romney’s constant wavering has not sat well with conservative voters. Republican primary voters desperately tried to vote for anyone but Romney, with Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and even Herman Cain taking the lead during the primary season. Conservatives – especially those in the stubborn, hard line Tea Party – have reluctantly accepted their presumptive nominee, even though they don’t believe he is truly the conservative candidate of their dreams.
But it’s not the Tea Party that should be worried about a Romney presidency – it’s everyone else.
If there’s one thing you can count on Mitt Romney to do, it’s capitulate to political pressure. And in a deadlocked Washington, that willingness to fold could prove disastrous. After all, the Tea Party has become the tail that wags the dog, forcing out moderate – and far to the right of moderate – Republicans in brutal primary elections. Tea Party candidates beat out sixteen establishment favorites, and seven of those candidates went on to win the 2010 general election.
Since then, the Tea Party has wreaked havoc on the legislature. Speaker of the House John Boehner has struggled to keep the reins amidst Tea Party vitriol. In March of 2011, the Speaker narrowly avoided a disaster by compromising with the administration during the debt ceiling negotiations. But it wasn’t thanks to his own party – 54 Republicans voted against raising the debt ceiling without deeper cuts, including a complete elimination of Title X funds to Planned Parenthood. It was thanks to Democrats reaching across the aisle that the government avoided a total shutdown.
Boehner’s not the only former moderate facing the wrath of the Tea Party. During the 2010 election, famed Republican strategist Karl Rove called the Tea Party “unsophisticated”, and claimed adamantly that Sarah Palin was not fit for the presidency. Rove has seemingly since embraced the Tea Party’s snowball into actual power by teaming up with the Koch brothers. More recently, the fiery dischord has turned on Senator John McCain, who scolded Michele Bachmann for her racist attacks on Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin. House Representative Louie Gohmert called McCain “numbnuts” for criticizing Bachmann’s unfounded attacks, and a Tea Party leader in Arizona claims that he will start the process of petitioning McCain for recall.
The Tea Party has forced not one symbolic vote on overturning the officially Constitutional health care law, but thirty-three. Their aggressive attacks on social programs have largely succeeded, even with Democrats holding the Senate and a Democratic president. Non-controversial issues like access to birth control have suddenly taken the national spotlight as “hot button issues”, even though the majority of Americans support those policies. And the $1.2 trillion in impending automatic cuts across the board this winter? That’s their doing too.
Though their population is small – the group is approximately 67,000 people strong, about 2% of the population – the Tea Party has its grip firmly on the Republican Party. And if Tea Party approved candidates continue to knock out more moderate Republicans, or simply take over vacated seats, the GOP will be forced to cater to their interests. Without the veto pen of a moderate president, disastrous legislation could be a few Senate seats away.
Puppets and Puppeteers
That reality hasn’t been lost on the GOP’s top talking heads. Non-economist turned inexplicably powerful tax cut enthusiast Grover Norquist has been vocal about the necessity of a Romney presidency. In February, Norquist tried to bring an earlier end to a primary season that bitterly divided the more conservative aspects of the party by telling conservative donors at CPAC, “We are not auditioning for Fearless Leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. We just need a president to sign this stuff.”
And he’s right. Romney is just the person for Republicans to pick for this job, because he’s a chameleon. He is a man who has built his political career on adapting, and telling his audience what they want to hear. No one knows what Mitt Romney actually believes on virtually any issue, and when it comes down to it, it’s not important. He’s truly the most capitalist president in that he will supply whatever rhetoric is in demand. The Tea Party is filled with reactionaries who want to be told that their disastrous ideas about everything from economics to birth control are the right course of action, and Romney will have no problem filling that role.
Road to the White House
It’s this singular Republican goal that has made President Obama’s campaign such an uphill battle. While Romney may not appeal to the ultra conservative in the party, he does not have to be any more to them than a means to their end. Likewise, more moderate Republicans who are turned off by the extremism of the Tea Party will also vote for Romney because of his moderate past.
President Obama has a much more discerning group of voters to motivate. The economy has not improved enough to be the campaign’s main selling point, and the Democrats are too diverse a group to universally energize on many other issues. Young voters who have been trampled by debt, gay and lesbian voters who feel Obama has not aptly defended or improved their legal standing, and voters of color who have been disproportionately affected by the recession must all be convinced that the president is still their best option. And then they have to be convinced enough to vote.
Meanwhile the Norquist Republicans are just looking for someone with “enough working digits to hold a pen”. And that’s what makes the prospect of “President Romney” so terrifying.