The take-no-prisoners defense of unbridled finance capitalism is not a feature of Mitt Romney. It’s a feature of modern American politics in general and of the conservative movement in particular. Mitt Romney did not run for governor of Massachusetts on a platform of promoting the interests of the wealthy above all else. He ran as a moderate, centrist, business-friendly custodian of the public fisc. Kind of like Michael Bloomberg. So expelling Mitt Romney will do nothing to change the fact that a critique of the financialization of American capitalism has barely begun anywhere in American politics.
On that, I’m in complete agreement with Noah. I’m under no illusion that, with Romney’s political aspirations squelched, conservatives of my bent will suddenly have gained the upper hand. If Romney loses, Republicans will find all sorts of reasons to explain away his defeat. Some of those reasons might even be true: Romney’s lack of natural campaigning talent. The nontrivial number of Americans who say they’d never vote for a Mormon. Mainstream media sympathy for Obama. Demographic trends that are gradually marginalizing working-class whites. Etc.
However, my heated dislike of Romney doesn’t stem from any hope that conservatives will more closely scrutinize turbo-capitalism in theory and practice. I’m not that naive. But I am, I’ll admit, being something of a Boy Scout. Put simply, I don’t think you should be able get away with the kind of ideological rebranding that Romney is attempting to get away with. I believe it would lower an already low bar for intellectual integrity in American politics. The sheer cynicism of it makes a festering problem — lack of trust in institutions — that much more acute.
How so? Consider. Noah writes that “Mitt Romney did not run for governor of Massachusetts on a platform of promoting the interests of the wealthy above all else.” True! But he’s obviously not running for president the way he governed in Massachusetts. (If he were, I’d dislike him a lot less intensely.) The fact that he’s had to dramatically upend his political identity raises a question that liberals and conservatives talk about a lot: Since Romney turned whored himself to the movement right, how would he govern in office? Will he feel beholden to the conservatives who begrudgingly assented to his nomination? Or will he revert to his old Massachusetts self? That’s a terribly corrosive question to have to ask of a president. (An aside: mainstream conservatives might object that the same thing may be said of Obama — he campaigned as a centrist but governed as a radical. For my part, I think he has governed in the mold of a Clinton Democrat.) How Mitt Romney governs, on almost any given issue of substance, will always be entangled with suspicions about why he’s governing that way. And that rottenness will attach to him permanently, undermining his legitimacy.
You could call this the normative argument for why I think Romney is uniquely toxic.
There’s a political one, too.
As it happens, I don’t think Romney will be beholden to the Tea Party right. I’ve argued before that he’d generally govern like someone who wanted to get reelected. What that will mean, in practice, is that he’s going to try to implement policies around which the entire Republican coalition can coalesce. Overhauling Medicare in the fashion that Paul Ryan advocates is not (yet) one of them. Lowering the top income tax rate to 25 percent is one of them. Such a policy would have disastrous consequences to public finances.
Then there’s Wall Street and, more specifically, the financial services industry. Establishment Republicans and Tea Party Republicans are in basic agreement that it should be unleashed anew. Wall Streeters themselves wish to be rid of the encumbrances of Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley. Tea Partyers, meanwhile, take the Tim Carney line that financial regulations actually enrich Wall Street.
Under a Romney administration, you’d have a pernicious convergence of ideology and rank self-interest. So while a Romney defeat may not spark a healthy critique of financial capitalism, we can be assured it will reopen the lid on its most ruinous qualities.
That’s why he needs to go away.