Monday, October 8, 2012

Romney shuns the right flank of his party?

Romney was sounding like a level-headed moderate in the debate last week. His conservative supporters, far from panicking, rejoiced, though more over his strength and steadiness than over the content of what he said. Let's just review a few things he said:
  • On individual income taxes: "We ought to bring the tax rates down... But in order for us not to lose revenue, have the government run out of money, I also lower deductions and credits and exemptions, so that we keep taking in the same money..."
  • On taxes for high-income folks: "But I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine in this economy."
  • On tax cuts and the deficit: "My number-one principle is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit."
  • On cutting government workers: "'ll make government more efficient and to cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments. My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way."
  • On education funding: "All right, I'm not going to cut education funding. I don't have any plan to cut education funding and -- and grants that go to people going to college."
  • On the spending cuts he'd make: Obamacare and PBS and programs such as Medicaid "that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level." Medicaid is the only such program that he mentioned, but it's big.
Consider the conservative orthodoxies that he didn't talk about:
  • The 20% tax rate reduction that is still on his campaign website.
  • Tax reduction on "job-creators."
  • Lower deficits than Obama's been running.
  • Cutting off all funding of Planned Parenthood.
  • Cutting as many lazy, overpaid federal bureaucrats as possible.
  • Outlawing abortion.
These orthodoxies he did affirm:
  • Strengthen the military.
  • No tax increases.
  • Repeal Obamacare.
  • Obama doesn't know how to turn around the economy.
  • Taking $716 billion from Medicare was horrible.

Romney the moderate?
If Romney is able to turn around his campaign on this platform, he won't owe very much to the right flank of his party since he will have won based on a much more moderate version of GOP conservatism.

That doesn't mean that the GOP right flank will acknowledge this change or the debt that they would owe the more moderate Romney should he win. It also doesn't mean that Romney will govern this way once in office. Bush, "the compassionate conservative" changed almost immediately. Obama couldn't or didn't enforce the transparency and bipartisanship he promised.

Romney's change in tone during the debate doesn't guarantee anything. The only real change is a change in possibility-- Romney has shown that moderation has some power to influence opinion. Actual governing is much trickier, as every president finds out.

Romney 5.0: No longer the severe conservative
Just to be clear, I used to think Romney was a moderate, but not after the entire primary season and this summer. I am thoroughly disabused of that thought. He's no moderate by ideals, but he plays one when it's opportune.

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