I continue to believe that Barack Obama will win the election next week, but Mitt Romney is clearly within striking distance and could pull out a victory. Whether he wins or loses, however, is likely to have a profound effect on the Republican Party either way. I consider both options.
If Romney wins, he will have an enormous challenge for which I’m not sure he is really prepared. His experience in office is very slight and he has spent almost none of his time as a candidate seeking the votes of Democrats. Most of it has been spent running for the Republican nomination, both this year and in 2008, and Romney’s strategy in the general election appears to be to win by turning out the largest possible percentage of his party’s base, rather than reaching out to Democrats and undecideds.
Romney’s electoral strategy may work, but if it does, he will come into office with more than the usual amount of enmity from the other party. In my opinion, Republicans, especially in the Senate, showed more open hostility toward Obama than any other Democratic president in history. Democrats in Congress will remember this for a long time to come, poisoning the well for any hopes Romney may have for bipartisanship.
The outcome of the congressional elections will be critical to determining the political environment in which Romney operates. It seems unlikely at this point that Republicans will gain the 3 net seats they need for Senate control. (That would create a 50-50 tie which could be broken by Vice President Paul Ryan in the event of a Romney victory.) The House is likely to remain in Republican hands, although with a diminished majority.
Without Senate control, a key Romney tactic for ramming his agenda through Congress will likely be off the table. That is an obscure procedure called “reconciliation”. It is important because reconciliation can be used to slash government spending, as Romney proposes, without being impeded by a Senate filibuster, which Republicans have used so successfully for the last 4 years to thwart Obama’s agenda.
The important thing to know about reconciliation is that it requires a budget resolution to be passed by both the House and Senate which contains reconciliation instructions. Without Senate control, I think it will be almost impossible for Republicans to get such a resolution enacted. Therefore, reconciliation will be off the table and the filibuster will be in full force.
There is a slight possibility that the filibuster will be reformed in the Senate, but I think that is very unlikely in the event of a Romney victory. Democrats will want their pound of flesh for Republican obstructionism and will repay Romney for every dirty trick Senate Republicans used against Obama. In my opinion, they were fools to use the filibuster so excessively, precisely because the shoe would be on the other foot eventually. If Romney wins, the chickens will come home to roost.
Romney may face a virtual crisis as soon as he takes office if Democrats respond to their loss by refusing to forestall the so-called fiscal cliff and trillions of dollars of tax increases and spending cuts take effect as scheduled on January 1. Although I think some of the forecasts of a sharp economic recession are exaggerated, there is no question that the fiscal cliff will make it far harder for Romney to get the economy moving again – his central campaign promise.
With little opportunity to pursue his budget-cutting/tax-cutting agenda in Congress, Romney may have no choice but to try and mend fences with Democrats and forge a bipartisan deal with them. Although he has often pointed to his governorship of a Democratic state, Massachusetts, as evidence that he can and will do so, there has been zero evidence of it on the campaign trail. Romney’s entire election strategy appears to consist of repeating every tired right-wing talking point of the last 4 years in hopes of scaring a high percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters into voting Obama out of office.
If a President Romney is forced to compromise with Democrats, all hell will break loose in the GOP. All of the vitriol that the far right has thrown at Obama will suddenly be redirected at Romney. Those who opposed him in the primaries will all say, “I told you so,” and Romney will be denounced as a RINO (Republican in name only), a turncoat, and every other epithet Republicans hurl at each other for disloyalty to right wing dogma.
Ironically, pretty much the same thing will happen if Romney loses. It is almost certain that the far right, which controls the Republican presidential nominating process, will conclude that Romney was simply too moderate to win. The right will conclude that it must double down in 2016 and nominate a true right winger, someone who really believes that benefits for the poor must be slashed to pay for big tax cuts for the rich; who really believes that the Federal Reserve is unconstitutional and that our monetary system should be based on gold; who really believes we must launch an economic war against China and a real one against Iran; who really believes that all abortions (including in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother) must be outlawed, and so on.
Sane conservatives like David Brooks of The New York Times, David Frum of the Daily Beast and others think this would be a recipe for Republicans to permanently lose control of the White House, especially since demographic trends – the rising Hispanic population and declining white population – are moving against the GOP. Perhaps they can convince some of the Republican Party’s many billionaires, who have been obsessed with defeating Obama at all cost, that their strategy has been ill-advised.
It’s at least conceivable that from the ashes of a Romney defeat, the moderate wing of the GOP, which has been in hibernation since 2000, when George W. Bush could campaign as a “compassionate conservative,” may finally reassert itself. A Republican group like the Democratic Leadership Council, which led the Democratic Party back from control by the far left to victory under centrist Bill Clinton in 1992, could be formed to lead the GOP back from oblivion.
At this point, I can only speculate. But in less than a week we will know a lot more about the future of the Republican Party and the direction of the country than we know today. Win or lose, Romney will have a great deal to do with both.