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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Romney’s Agenda Leaves No Room for ‘Moving to the Center’

If you know anyone who is both reasonably sane and still entertaining the delusion that Romney will move “to the center” once elected, compel them somehow to read Theda Skocpols’ WaPo op-ed “Mitt Romney, the stealth tea party candidate.” Skocpol, co-author, with Vanessa Williamson of “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, shreds the delusion and makes Romney’s stated intentions crystal clear, and then provides a realistic evaluation of the likelihood of his commitment to implement them:

“Many tea party folks are going to find me, I believe, to be the ideal candidate,” the Republican presidential contender said in a news conference in December. “I sure hope so.”
These words were uttered not by Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul or Rick Perry — but by Mitt Romney. Yes, the same Romney who has been pegged as too moderate to attract tea party voters and hard-core conservatives.

Skocpol predicts that Romney’s nomination will be followed by numerous “media obituaries for the tea party explaining how the movement that won so much in 2010 fell short in 2012 and is left saddled with an elite, middle-of-the-road candidate it doesn’t want.” In reality, however, Skocpol explains:

…Romney — Swiss bank accounts, establishment support and all — has maneuvered with ruthless precision and impeccable timing to position himself as a champion of the tea party agenda. During the primary campaign, he’s repeatedly pledged fealty to key tea party priorities: cracking down on illegal immigration, repealing “ObamaCare,” slashing taxes and drastically scaling back government spending. It’s working: Half of the primary voters in Florida who say they support the tea party went for Romney.
Romney has become the stealth tea party candidate, endorsing the essence of the movement while remaining unburdened by its public label. This makes him the ideal tea party candidate for the general-election battle against President Obama.

Noting that illegal immigrants are a top source of anger for the tea party, Scokpol explains that Romney has declared “himself unalterably opposed to the Dream Act and any other benefits “rewarding” illegal immigrants,” including the big fence and draconian crack-downs on hiring and government benefits, with no amnesty for illegal immigrants, who should all “self-deport.”. As for health care reform:

…Romney has constantly declared his determination to get rid of ObamaCare the minute he moves into the White House. Of course, Romney’s health-care overhaul in Massachusetts, which he continues to defend, is essentially the same thing as Obama’s Affordable Care Act does: Both feature rules to curb private insurance abuses, state “exchanges” for people to buy private health plans and subsidiesfor Americans who cannot afford insurance. No matter; Romney just loudly promises to get rid of ObamaCare and assumes, probably correctly, that many in the tea party accept his pledge.

Romney has also hitched his star to the most draconian right-wing economic “reforms” that have been proposed, including:

When Gingrich surged in GOP primary polls, Romney endorsed Ryan’s budget plan, which promises to continue the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy, add new tax breaks for corporations and wealthy estate owners, and slash public spending on Medicaid, Medicare, welfare and college tuition assistance. In fact, Romney has gone well beyond Ryan’s proposals, issuing campaign documents that promise to slash non-defense spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product, or even as low as 16 percent. This would pull the federal government out of much of what it does to promote education and health, and to care for an aging population. No wonder the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and other ultra-right elite groups are falling in line behind Romney.

Romney will make centrist noises once he is nominated, warns Skocpol, but there are no reasons for believing he would govern with moderation:

…If he ends up in the general-election race, Romney’s campaign will rarely mention the tea party. While throwing occasional red meat to the conservative faithful, he will generally repackage himself as a centrist who knows how to grow the economy and create jobs. Some voters and commentators may even conclude that the “true Romney,” the moderate Romney, is reemerging and that he simply pandered to the right during the primaries.
Don’t count on it. Research shows that presidents strive to carry out the promises they make during campaigns. If Romney defeats Obama, he could take office backed by a Republican-led House and Senate, which would quickly send radical-right bills to his desk. A President Romney would sign them all — the Ryan budget eviscerating Medicare and Medicaid, a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts, harsh immigration crackdowns, the gutting of ObamaCare. Whatever his deep-down beliefs, he would be determined to overcome any lingering conservative skepticism.

“In Romney,” concludes Skocpol, “the tea party has found the ultimate prize: a candidate loyal to the movement’s agenda, but able to fool enough pundits and moderate voters to win the White House at a time when the tea party has lost broad appeal. Pushing the Republican Party to the hard right and denying Obama a second term have always been top tea party goals. In Romney, the movement has just the man it needs.”

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