Romney: An Extremist in Moderate Clothing
Ezra Klein makes the case this morning that in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, "moderation is winning."
Which is not to say Romney's plans make him a moderate. On taxes, for instance, he is well to the right of George W. Bush. Where Bush proposed his tax cuts to spend down a surplus, Romney, in a time of massive deficits, is proposing to make Bush's tax cuts permanent (price tag: $4 trillion) and then add trillions more in cuts that heavily favor wealthy Americans. On Medicare, too, he is well to the right of Bush: A more moderate version of Ryan's plan is vastly more conservative than anything Bush ever attempted.
Nevertheless, he is, of the Republicans running for president, the least extreme in his policy proposals, and also the most likely to capture the nomination. If Huntsman counts as a moderate, then so does Romney -- and so, in their presidential preferences so far, do a plurality of Republican primary voters. They have, after all, not only backed Romney, but they have decisively rejected Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, the candidates aimed most squarely at Tea Party wing of the GOP.
I think that's probably right, but it's rather unsatisfying, isn't it? It's true that the candidates perceived as running furthest to the right have fared poorly, and that the radical Tea Party base has played almost no meaningful role whatsoever, but I'm still left with the impression that we're talking about a Republican field separated only be degrees of far-right extremism.
Romney, to be sure, was a relative moderate for much of his career, but as has been documented ad nauseum, the current Romney bears no resemblance to the previous versions of himself. Indeed, he's gone to almost comical lengths to repudiate every policy position he ever took before becoming a presidential candidate.
As Jonathan Cohn argued persuasively last week, "At least on domestic policy, Romney has taken positions every bit as extreme as Santorum."
What, after all, is the Romney agenda? Tax cuts for the wealthy, replacing Medicare with a voucher scheme, privatizing Social Security, taking away health care coverage from millions, letting Wall Street do as it pleases, a more right-wing federal judiciary, slashing public investments that benefit working families, more foreclosures, and of all things, tax increases on those already struggling.
Romney thinks putting "country first" means putting country second -- or perhaps third, behind ideology and party. If given a chance to work with Democrats on debt reduction, and they offered him a 10-to-1 deal on cuts to revenue, he thinks that's not one-sided enough.
Ezra's probably right that Romney doesn't seem as extreme as some of his more unhinged rivals, but that says more about the state of the Republican Party in 2012 than it does about the limits of Romney's ideology.