Prof. Krugman is off today. In “The Romney Package” Mr. Keller gives us a short guide to what you’re voting for if you vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket. [shudder] Here he is:
Brace yourself for weeks of chatter about Mitt Romney’s running mate. Vice presidents matter, as we have been spookily reminded by the recent re-emergence of Dick Cheney on our TV screens. And Paul Ryan matters more than most. (See below.)
But these days you don’t just elect a ticket of two; you elect a whole package. Presidents come with a cast of advisers, think tanks, lobbyists, legislators, donors and watchdogs. Some in the entourage end up in key jobs; others operate as a kind of shadow cabinet, vetting choices and enforcing doctrine.
This is especially true of Republicans, who have spent decades building a disciplined conservative infrastructure that recruits talent, culls dissenters and lays down the law. Compared with Democrats, who are scattered left and center, a Republican administration is more than ever a conservative turnkey project.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney gathered a team of technocrats, centrist Republicans, even some Democrats. “He sought competence, experience and creativity and gave less weight to politics or ideology,” recalled Scott Helman, a veteran Romney-watcher for The Boston Globe. “But that was then,” he added. Yes, that was a different time, a different place, a different Romney.
It’s possible President Romney would prefer to convene an administration of deal-cutters and problem-solvers. The trusted aides expected to help him organize the West Wing — former Senator Jim Talent of Missouri; Mike Leavitt, former governor of Utah; former Bain Capital partner Bob White; and Beth Myers, who was Romney’s chief of staff in Massachusetts — are more managers than firebrands.
The question is whether anything short of hyperpartisanship is possible for a Republican leader in today’s Washington. At the national level, moderate Republicans are scarce and endangered. The policy factories, Congressional stalwarts and interest groups Romney will need to staff a government have been ideologically purified and politically schooled, and are mostly conservatives of the uncompromising kind. President Romney will be as much a captive of this Republican Washington as its leader. Ask John Boehner.
What follows is a sampler of what you get with a President Romney, some of them his choices, some thrust upon him. The primary campaign pulled Romney sharply to the right. Here are some of the forces that are likely to keep him there.
THE APOSTLE OF MARKETS Ryan would have been a powerful voice in a Romney administration even if he had not been chosen for the sidekick role — the younger, quicker, more conviction-filled half of the ticket. His manifesto for lower tax rates and severe cuts in nonmilitary spending has become his party’s master plan, a brutal alternative to the recommendations of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles fiscal reform commission (which Ryan participated in, then voted against because it included tax hikes). Ryan gets demonized as a guy who wants to privatize the safety net, and not without reason. President Obama decried Ryan’s plan for Medicare vouchers as “social Darwinism”; even Newt Gingrich called it “right-wing social engineering.” Ryan has tempered some of the more radical aspects of his plan, and the other day he told me he regards it as the basis of a bipartisan “adult conversation,” not the last word. (Ryan is, like Obama, the kind of self-confident politician who will call a critical columnist if he sees a scrap of common ground.) “We have consensus within both parties and in the country that health security is a mission of the federal government,” he said in a phone call from Wisconsin. But make no mistake, Ryan embodies a philosophy that most public needs — even such sensitive needs as health care and retirement security — are better served with a lot less government and a lot more trust in the dubious mercies of the marketplace.
THE HAWK On foreign policy, Romney has so far largely bypassed his party’s mainstream in favor of advisers with a decidedly neoconservative bent — confrontational, unilateral, with a missionary urge to spread American-style democracy and a particular affinity for Israel’s hard-liners. Romney’s more conventional insiders call it the “Bolton faction,” for John Bolton, among the most hawkish of George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” interventionists. Bolton is now on the Romney team, but Dan Senor is the one who has Romney’s ear. At 40, he is next-gen Bolton, smoother, TV-savvy, post-cold war in age but cold war in spirit. (He co-founded a think tank with the Soviet-era neocon William Kristol.) Senor helped choreograph Romney’s recent foreign debut, in which the candidate needlessly offended the British and the Palestinians. You might think that gaffe-a-thon would be a career setback, but Senor has survived bigger debacles. He was the spin-doctor for L. Paul Bremer, who, as the American proconsul of post-conquest Iraq, presided over the most highhanded and blundering stage of the occupation.
THE ORIGINALIST Appointing 85-year-old Robert Bork as co-chairman of his Justice Advisory Committee sent a clear message to the right: The Supreme Court will be all yours. Bork is the original originalist, champion of the doctrine that says the Constitution does not adapt to changes in society, spiritual father of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. A Reagan Supreme Court nominee, he was attacked (with justification) as a radical and denied confirmation; to conservatives he is a martyr and an oracle. Temperamentally, Romney might be tempted to nominate someone in the slightly less doctrinaire mold of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. But to the hard core, Roberts is tarnished by his ruling in support of Obama’s health care plan. As my friend the expert court-watcher Linda Greenhouse puts it, “I think we can assume without fear of being tendentious that Romney would go as far to the right as the base wants and the Senate would permit.”
THE TRICKLE-DOWN ECONOMIST R. Glenn Hubbard, who has been a top Romney adviser since the 2008 campaign, is a reputable economist, dean of Columbia Business School. He is not one of those abolish-the-Fed, tax-cuts-pay-for-themselves charlatans who seem to have captured the minds of so many Republicans. But he has increasingly traded in his economic science for partisan politics. As chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, Hubbard rationalized huge tax cuts (the promised bonanza of jobs failed to materialize) and deregulation (widely blamed for contributing to the housing and banking mess). Now he lends an expert gloss to the claim that Romney’s sketchy economic plan will create 12 million jobs — a claim I doubt would pass muster in a first-year Econ class at Columbia.
THE MOGUL CHORUS The traditional euphemism in Washington is that money doesn’t buy influence; it just buys access. Whatever you call it, Romney’s mega-donors, who have their individual pet issues and a shared loathing of regulations of any kind, will not be settling for sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom. Sheldon Adelson (casinos and Israel), Charles and David Koch (petroleum and libertarian politics) and Bob Perry (home builder and bankroller of the Swift Boat slander) will not be taking cabinet jobs. But don’t expect to see a secretary of commerce or energy or a director of the Environmental Protection Agency (if any of those positions still exist) or any other key regulator who does not pass muster with Romney’s big investors, or does not take their phone calls.
THE TEAM OF RIVALS Just as Obama recruited Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden into his administration, a victorious Romney would reach out to Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain … just kidding! Santorum does have a speaking slot at the convention, and he needs a job (secretary of health and human services would be a horrifying sop to social conservatives), but the Republican also-rans are most likely to play the role of visible and ornery watchdogs. I expect their only personal contact with President Romney would be in the green room at Fox News.